Uncertainty over Brexit eating into cross-border trade growth
Growth in cross-border trade - usually worth £6bn a year - is slowing down as concerns mount over Brexit, according to a report released today.
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Research by InterTradeIreland found that small to medium-sized firms on both sides of the border were feeling pressure on a range of fronts.
While Brexit was a concern for the greatest percentage of companies (44%), other worries were also prominent.
Rising costs were a problem to more than a third of firms, while cashflow was a concern for 32%.
The survey found that cross-border traders were hardest-hit by uncertainty.
During the fourth quarter of 2018, only 37% reported growth, compared to 52% a year earlier.
However, exporting businesses tended to show the greatest resilience.
InterTradeIreland said Brexit was holding up business investment, with only 4% of firms planning to spend money on research and development or new products in the near future.
"This is consistent with businesses holding back until the terms of the new trading relationship with Britain and the EU become clear," it added.
Attracting talent remained a major issue - and one that could have a significant impact on the economy in the long term.
Aidan Gough, a director at the InterTradeIreland, urged companies to confront the many issues posed by Brexit sooner rather than later.
"Business is facing many challenges and a high degree of uncertainty," Mr Gough stressed.
"While we recognise this makes planning difficult, we encourage businesses - particularly cross-border traders - to take a deep dive into their supply chains and their logistics operations.
"SMEs need to assess if they are ready to deal with the bureaucracy surrounding customs and tariffs.
"(They need) to be aware of the regulations that govern their market and the impact of any changes."
Colm Gribben, the owner of Newry company Viltra Wastewater Technology, admitted he was feeling nervous.
"We survived the crash in 2007/ 2008, and it was crucial for us to be able to diversify by exploring the cross-border market and introducing new products," he added. "Our business is growing, but the backdrop of Brexit does make us nervous at the moment.
"We have started planning and have identified areas of risk and opportunity. I would encourage all businesses to do the same.
"We are hesitant to take any big decisions until the outcome of Brexit is known."
Last week, figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed the value of goods exported from Northern Ireland to the Republic had grown by 7% to €1.5bn (£1.32bn) during 2018.
However, Nisra, the CSO's equivalent in Northern Ireland, puts the proceeds of sales to the Republic at nearly £4bn due to different methods of assessing transactions.