Belfast Telegraph

Experts hail 'creditable' year as Northern Ireland exports and domestic sales surge

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland firms are selling more of their goods at home and a slump in sterling has also helped sales overseas, according to the latest figures.

The Broad Economy Sales and Exports Statistics for 2016 showed that sales to customers at home hit £44.7bn. That was growth of £829m, or 1.9%, bringing Northern Ireland sales to their highest level since 2011.

Sales to Great Britain, meanwhile, increased by 2%, or £281m, to hit £14bn - also the highest level since the survey began in 2011. External sales, which include exports as well as sales to GB, were up 4.2% to £24.1bn, again the highest since 2011. The 2016 rate of increase in external sales compared to 2.2% a year earlier.

Exports beyond the UK had stronger growth at 7.3% to £10.1bn, up £686m. That followed a fall of 1.6% in exports in 2015.

Exports to the Republic grew by £73m, or 2.2%, but growth in EU markets other than the Republic was even stronger, up 9.4% to £2.3bn. However, the strongest export growth was to all countries outside the EU, which increased by 10.4% to £4.4bn.

The number of businesses selling to destinations outside Northern Ireland also rose.

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of trade group Manufacturing NI, said: "Export sales are up as sterling has slumped, but this has also meant a big increase in input costs. A much smaller amount of firms export than those who sell in domestic markets or in Great Britain, so these costs are either passed on to consumers or impacting on profitability.

"Brexit will only really be visible if we leave the EU without a deal which sees businesses able to trade as we do today.

"Outside of the EU there will be significantly more cost and complexity, even with a good deal, so we need to ensure we have a cost base from which our manufacturers can compete in external markets."

Dr Esmond Birnie, senior economist at the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre, added: "This is a very creditable performance by Northern Ireland.

"Many of the numbers are going in the right direction - some of this probably caused by the exchange rate devaluation in mid-2016 - but it remains to be the seen if the scale of improvement is commensurate with the challenges which lie ahead.

"Exports to the EU beyond the Republic grew by 9% and exports to the world beyond EU by 10%.

"There is some sign we are diversifying (even if slowly) from our traditional dependence on GB and the Republic of Ireland."

Belfast Telegraph

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