Belfast Telegraph

Survey: rising costs are pushing exports down

By Louise Small

Concerns are rising within Northern Ireland businesses about their ability to hold on to export markets due to increased competition and rising costs, a survey has found.

Two-thirds of respondents told the latest quarterly economic report by the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce (NICC) that sales from April to June were either static or had fallen.

The disappointing findings could be a set back for the Northern Ireland Executive's Programme for Government, which aims to boost exports by 15% by 2015.

The companies told the NICC that they faced issues such as competitive threats and currency volatility as a result of global economic problems.

Costs of raw materials, utilities and finance were rising.

Over three-quarters of those surveyed said they would either be forced to carry these costs through maintaining existing prices or cutting them.

NICC chief executive Ann McGregor said: "The findings are not surprising given the current global economic uncertainty and the ongoing crisis in the eurozone which is impacting adversely so many export markets and especially the Republic of Ireland, our biggest single export marketplace."

The study - included in a UK-wide report by the British Chambers of Commerce - is part of the NICC's Export First initiative.

Just over a third of respondents said exports had increased, while exporters reporting a downturn in sales rose by 5% to 27% over the same period.

One of Northern Ireland's biggest exporters, FG Wilson, yesterday announced a loss of 260 jobs across their three manufacturing facilities in the coming year.

The survey also found that, overall, business confidence decreased in the past three months and 22% of respondents expressed concern over future prospects.

But Ms McGregor said encouragement can be taken from figures which show many companies are holding and increasing their business abroad.

"I believe that this indicates that the work we are doing with our partners in Export First to increase knowledge and skills is producing dividends for many of the 700 small and medium sized enterprises that have taken part in the programme."