Belfast Telegraph

'Urgent action' to boost trade sought by Chamber of Commerce

By Margaret Canning

The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce is expected to call for 'urgent action' to boost exports from the province during a briefing to the Enterprise, Trade and Investment committee today.

The chamber is due to present the committee with key issues which must be addressed if Northern Ireland is to increase exports and meet targets set by the Programme for Government.

Some of the issues include the relative smallness of Northern Ireland's private sector and the fact that firms employing fewer than 50 people are predominant.

In addition, the chamber said Northern Ireland was disadvantaged by a low 'business birth rate' of 7% compared to 11% in the UK as a whole.

A recent survey showed overseas sales by large firms in the province fell by nearly 8% in 2012/13.

NI Chamber of Commerce president Mark Nodder – who heads up Wrightbus, one of Northern Ireland's biggest export successes – called on the Government to urgently deliver an export action plan for Northern Ireland.

"The Economic Strategy currently states that it prioritises export-led growth and has a target to increase the value of exports by 20% by 2014/15," he said.

"However, one year into that target, exports have fallen by 1.2%. The number of businesses exporting goods has been falling and currently stands at just under 1,500 compared to 1,700 in 2010."

He said the Executive should recognise the extent of the "export challenge".

"The current support system is fragmented and fails to recognise that every business looking to export has different requirements," he said.

The Executive's manufacturing sales and exports survey showed exports by firms employing over 250 people were down in 2012/13, although manufacturing sales to Great Britain were at an all-time high of £8.1bn.

Mr Nodder said the private sector was willing to support government in a drive to increase exports. "Government do not have to solve this issue alone and should recognise and support the role of the private sector in delivering trade support to business," he added.

Mr Nodder is due to brief the committee along with chief executive Ann McGregor and economist Maureen O'Reilly.

Belfast Telegraph