Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's 'patchy' recovery aided by export sales to Brazil

By Maureen Coleman

Manufacturing export sales to Brazil are helping to drive Northern Ireland's 'patchy' economic recovery, according to a new report.

Figures released by business advisers PricewaterhouseCooper show that while growth is continuing at a slow rate, export sales to Brazil were about £27.7m within the 2012-2013 period.

The total value of manufacturing exports to Latin America was £71m and sales to Brazil included machinery, pharmaceuticals and foods, especially milk powder.

Among the companies strengthening their trade links with Brazil are Marlborough Engineering – which is making parts to test the wings and spars for the new KC-390 fighter jet being developed by aerospace firm Embraer.

Others include Coleraine firm Armstrong Medical, Anaconda Equipment and Moy Park, a subsidiary of the Brazilian company Marfrig.

PwC's latest Northern Ireland Economic Outlook notes that sales by local companies to the emerging markets have been outpacing other exports and over the first two years of the Programme for Government Northern Ireland exports to the emerging markets had grown by 35.5%.

Overall the report claims that while Northern Ireland's economy continues to grow, recovery is patchy and far from assured.

It also says that employment has risen by around 20,000 in the 24 months to March 2014, but the increase has been driven by new investment in business and financial services and a recovery of jobs previously lost in manufacturing and retail.

And local unemployment is still twice the level of the pre-recession peak, falling at only half the pace of the UK average.

Dr Esmond Birnie, PwC chief economist in Northern Ireland, said some of the high-level indicators like employment were camouflaging other areas where evidence of sustained recovery is less convincing.

"Northern Ireland's unemployment total fell by 15% in the year to July 2014, but the UK average fell by 30% over the same period," he said.

"Wages are still lagging behind inflation, productivity is broadly static and around a dozen private sector companies account for the bulk of manufacturing exports.

"Northern Ireland's growth rate is the lowest of the 12 UK regions; the hangover of the property crash is evident in property prices and negative equity, while interest rates are anticipated to rise by the early part of 2015.

"Employment is only one measure of economic activity and while the falling jobless total is welcome, it needs to be accompanied by productivity gains, export growth and increased investment from both private and public sectors – and unfortunately that's not the case."

The chief economist added: "There is certainly clear evidence of recovery, but that is more about slowly catching up on where we were in 2007, than demonstrating real growth of the kind being achieved by other regions, outside London."

Belfast Telegraph