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Coronavirus spread may stop Northern Ireland firms attending major French conference

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Impact: Janice Gault

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Impact: Janice Gault

Northern Ireland's business leaders are reviewing their attendance at one of the world's largest property conferences in France next month following the spread of the coronavirus.

The decision to reconsider going to MIPIM in Cannes follows on from CBRE, Lloyds Banking Group and EY's move to pull out of the event.

The conference, which is attended by around 7,000 delegates from over 100 countries and facilitates lucrative property investments, is expected to welcome members of Belfast City Council, Translink, Belfast Chamber and other Northern Ireland firms.

Belfast City Council did not confirm if it would cancel travel plans.

"The Belfast at MIPIM Taskforce is monitoring the situation," it said. "We are in regular contact with the conference organisers Reed MIDEM.

"At present, they are advising that MIPIM 2020 is proceeding as planned.

"We are also in contact with the UK Government and Department of International Trade to seek their advice regards attendance at MIPIM.

"We will continue to monitor the situation." Translink said it was keeping its attendance "under review".

Business sectors across Northern Ireland have been hit by the spread of the coronavirus.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said the global economic impact of the outbreak "has already happened".

He said: "The scale and duration is unknown but it is likely to be months as opposed to weeks and it would be optimistic to say it would only last a few months. I get the sense that this is going to be with us for most of 2020.

"It's a bit like the Twelfth fortnight, or any holiday period when people down tools, that goes on for an extended period of time."

Mr Ramsey said the outbreak could trigger a recession adding: "They say the first recession was born in America, the second was made in China. China is the largest global factory and so many countries and sectors are reliant on it directly or indirectly so what is happening now is a domino effect."

Stock markets have also indicated the first move towards a recession, with many tumbling.

Asian stock markets plunged further yesterday following on from Wall Street's biggest one-day drop in nine years.

Meanwhile Tokyo's benchmark plummeted by 3.7%, and Seoul and Sydney dropped by more than 3%. Hong Kong and Shanghai fell over 2.5%.

Yesterday the FTSE 100 share index experienced its biggest one-week fall since the 2008 recession.

Mr Ramsey said the impact of a recession from the coronavirus would pale in comparison to the 2008 recession.

He said: "This will not be a repeat of 10 years ago. That was a once-in-a-lifetime recession. We have been knocked off course.

"It has gone from supply shock and led on to consumer demand. Every sector will be affected but to what extent is unknown because we have never had anything go wrong in China, which, today is the primary driver for global economic growth." Belfast Harbour, which anticipates a knock-on effect from disruption in the supply chain said: "Although Belfast Harbour has no direct sailing connections with China, imports and exports are handled to and from Belfast via the European hub ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp.

"However, with the impact of coronavirus on Chinese output, its ports and shipping services to and from China, we anticipate that there will be an impact on volumes to and from the region which will feed through in the coming weeks."

And while Chinese tourists only account for 1% of visitors here, hoteliers are still feeling the kickback.

Janice Gault, NI Hotels Federation CEO, said: "The Chinese market is small and in real terms a new and developing market for hotels in Northern Ireland.

"In the short term there have been some tour cancellations from this region.

"These are confined to the first quarter of the year and the general consensus, based on market intelligence from China, suggests that this business will be rebooked once issues around coronavirus have been resolved."

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