Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland businesses 'need more support at home' to reap benefits of new export strategy: Trade minister

By Margaret Canning and PA

Northern Ireland firms need a more supportive business environment at home before they can share in any benefits from a new UK-wide export strategy, it's been claimed.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox yesterday outlined a plan for getting more businesses to tap into emerging markets, including China and Africa.

And he bemoaned the UK's focus on Brexit, saying the country needs to have a less "narrow bandwidth" and look at the wider global picture to boost international trade.

Ann McGregor, chief executive of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber), said it welcomed the UK government's plan.

"Businesses here in Northern Ireland have products and services that are second to none, making the importance of a 'team UK' approach throughout the execution of the strategy extremely important. It is essential that our local firms can fully benefit from any UK-wide strategy.

"At a time of immense change for the UK economy, it is also absolutely critical that the government gets its national approach to trade and export right."

But she said Northern Ireland businesses needed a more supportive environment at home.

"We therefore need airports with capacity for direct flights to link businesspeople and goods to customers around the world.

"We require clear immigration and training policies that let firms secure talent from around the world, top-class digital connectivity and most importantly no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland post-Brexit in order to ensure that firms here can still serve our number one export market."

At an event for business leaders at the Institute of Directors (IoD) in London yesterday, Dr Fox said that the UK's competitors were planning for up to 15 years into the future and he wanted the UK to "widen our horizons, to lengthen our timeframes".

He said: "It's really important that we don't have such a narrow bandwidth that we only think about Brexit.

"It's really interesting when I go to China, when I go to other parts of the world, they talk about the global economy, they talk about tariffs, talk about the United States and China, they talk about the WTO (World Trade Organisation).

"And in the UK we talk about Brexit and Brexit and Brexit. It is an important issue, but it isn't the only issue that is out there in terms of global trade."

Dr Fox outlined the government's desire to increase exports as a proportion of UK GDP to 35% as it seeks to encourage more businesses to sell goods and services overseas. Official figures released in June showed exports of UK goods and services hit a record £620bn last year, accounting for 30% of UK GDP.

He said Brexit did not mean Britain would "pull up the drawbridge" but instead would be able to "embrace the opportunities that the changing pattern of global trade presents".

Belfast Telegraph

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