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Half of Northern Ireland firms find trading with Britain more difficult due to protocol: survey

But 67% of companies see protocol as presenting an opportunity for them

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Trucks leaving Larne Port, where they have to undergo new checks as part of the NI Protocol (Brian Lawless/PA)

Trucks leaving Larne Port, where they have to undergo new checks as part of the NI Protocol (Brian Lawless/PA)

Trucks leaving Larne Port, where they have to undergo new checks as part of the NI Protocol (Brian Lawless/PA)

Half of firms here find trade with Britain more difficult as a result of Brexit including the protocol, a survey has found.

Just under one-quarter of members surveyed by the Chamber of Commerce also said the new arrangements, which have kept Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods, have had a major negative impact on their trade with Britain. That was up from 18% in the first quarter of 2021.

Around 56% said their costs has increased. But at 32%, the proportion finding the new arrangements difficult in general was down from 41% in the first quarter.

However, around one in four of members said that the new trading arrangements had improved trade within Northern Ireland.

And just over two-thirds believed our unique status with unfettered access to both the EU and British markets presented opportunities. Some 47% believed it brought opportunities for their own firms.

Ann McGregor of the NI Chamber said: “Any change of trading arrangements of this magnitude will inevitably present issues during transition.

“However, this survey shows that ultimately, businesses see the benefits of Northern Ireland’s unique position.

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Ann McGregor, chief executive of the NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry

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“They now need the support of a stable government to capitalise on the opportunities we now have to trade with other countries, which should be central to our growth strategy.”

Overall, the survey found that business activity and sentiment had improved in the second quarter of the year.

However, at 46%, the level of firms reporting inflation as a concern was at the highest in nearly a decade.

Brian Murphy, managing partner of BDO, which carried out the survey, said it showed welcome signs of recovery.

“The recovery is now in full swing.

"We’re seeing businesses out there looking for opportunities and lifting their heads for the first time in a long time and looking to see what they can do.”

The survey also showed that recruitment activity was picking up for the services and manufacturing sectors, but 80% of members were finding it hard to get staff.

Mr Murphy suggested the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), in which the government has been paying 80% of an employee’s wages where their jobs were affected by lockdowns, could be hampering recruitment. The furlough scheme is to draw to a close at the end of September.

Mr Murphy said: “Furlough has been incredible, and a complete lifeline for the economy…

“Now it’s coming to an end and its usefulness coming to an end. Maybe we’re coming to a situation where furlough could be a negative.

“Hospitality in particular is having enormous challenges getting staff. And for people on furlough, the fact they are on furlough and in some cases allowed to do other jobs, may mean they are better off than at any stage before.

“So it may be hard to get them off that and into other jobs before it comes to an end.”

He said he had advocated for it to become a wage subsidy scheme so that the payment of wages to people who were doing their jobs could be supported.

“On a macro-level across the economy, we’re seeing more of a demand for positions to be filled and people are finding it to hard fill them and that seems counterintuitive to having a furlough system in parallel.

“A transition to a wage subsidy could be the best of both worlds.”

Ms McGregor said: “Our survey findings confirm that Northern Ireland’s economic recovery is gaining momentum and while it is good to see, we must be mindful that it is coming from a very low base.

“Businesses are also facing significant pressure to raise prices for a variety of reasons including raw material cost increases, bottlenecks in supply chains caused by Covid-19, as well as cost and administrative burdens arising from new trading arrangements.

“There is a danger of persistent inflation, which is bad for businesses and consumers.

“However, we hope these price pressures will be a largely temporary phenomenon as some sense of normality returns after the extreme challenges of the last year and a half.”


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