Ann Mcgre­gor

Top 100 gives us time to re­flect on success but also the chal­lenges fac­ing world of busi­ness

Belfast Telegraph - Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies - - CONTENTS -

If there is one thing we have learned from how the busi­ness sec­tor here re­acts in times of po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty it is that re­silience and per­se­ver­ance is a key char­ac­ter­is­tic of our many suc­cess­ful com­pa­nies. The pub­li­ca­tion of North­ern Ire­land’s Top 100 Com­pa­nies by the Belfast Tele­graph gives us the op­por­tu­nity to not only re­flect on the strength and de­ter­mi­na­tion of some of our top per­form­ers here, but it al­lows us to look at the landscape and the chal­lenges that face them.

There is no doubt that busi­nesses are get­ting on with it in terms of trad­ing both do­mes­ti­cally and ex­port­ing. As it stands our ex­ports were up by 5% to £10.1bn dur­ing 2017/18. It is a pos­i­tive in­crease, but one that is fac­ing down­ward pres­sure from a still un­cer­tain Brexit set-up.

The Repub­lic of Ire­land re­mains one of our most sig­nif­i­cant trade al­lies and our big­gest ex­port­ing cus­tomer. Ex­ports to the Repub­lic grew by 16% dur­ing 2017/18 to £3.9bn, em­pha­sis­ing the mar­ket’s im­por­tance and how a seam­less trad­ing en­vi­ron­ment be­tween our busi­nesses and customers/sup­pli­ers/in­vestors from the Repub­lic must re­main in place even in a post-brexit world.

It’s a sen­ti­ment that is not only felt by busi­nesses here and in the Repub­lic but one that is ac­knowl­edged by other na­tions with whom we also rely on for trade and in­vest­ment.

When the Speaker of the United States House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Nancy Pelosi, vis­ited Ire­land in April she warned that any hard bor­der that weak­ened the Good Fri­day Agree­ment, would have im­pli­ca­tions for the US-UK trade deal. It was a stark re­minder that not only is fric­tion­less trade be­tween us and our Repub­lic of Ire­land coun­ter­parts imperative to en­sure good re­la­tions closer

to home, it’s one that has wider im­por­tance that steps be­yond our im­me­di­ate en­vi­rons.

“If there were to be any weak­en­ing of the Good Fri­day ac­cords then there would be no chance what­so­ever, a non-starter, for a US-UK trade agree­ment,” Nancy Pelosi said.

The US is our sec­ond largest ex­port trad­ing part­ner af­ter the Repub­lic of Ire­land. We want to strengthen trade re­la­tion­ships with the US and in­deed fur­ther afield, par­tic­u­larly in a post-brexit era. Lo­cal busi­nesses are seek­ing out new mar­kets and we have seen some growth in trade with the rest of the world. Lat­est Nisra fig­ures show that North­ern Ire­land’s ex­ports out­side the EU grew by 5% in 2017/18 to a value of £4.3bn. It is a rise that demon­strates that our firms are not sit­ting still but look­ing to mar­kets and opportunit­ies in Aus­tralia, the States and China.

And while these fig­ures would in­di­cate that there is pro-ac­tive­ness in our busi­ness com­mu­nity, there is still an un­der­ly­ing chal­lenge in main­tain­ing re­la­tion­ships with EU customers and sup­pli­ers which is per­haps re­flected in the fact that ex­ports to the rest of the Europe (ex­clud­ing the Repub­lic) fell last year by 12% to £2bn. This has been re­in­forced by NI Cham­ber’s lat­est Quar­terly Eco­nomic Sur­vey where some mem­bers have told us that the are strug­gling to or in­deed have al­ready lost EU customers be­cause Brexit un­cer­tainty is mak­ing them look to sup­pli­ers within ‘Re­main­ing’ EU countries.

The con­clu­sion that must be taken from these re­sults and the highs and lows, must serve as a se­ri­ous prompt to those in power to give our busi­nesses clear guid­ance and prac­ti­cal solutions around our fu­ture trad­ing en­vi­ron­ment, so that op­er­at­ing in an un­de­fined cor­po­rate play­ing field does not be­come the norm for much longer.

Our busi­nesses, and those ex­celling in the Top 100, shape our econ­omy, boost jobs, de­velop skills and keep cor­po­rate eyes on NI for in­vest­ment. Their vic­to­ries and con­tri­bu­tion must be ac­knowl­edged with an­swers and prom­ises of sta­bil­ity or ul­ti­mately they could face the big­gest change to their terms of trade in over a gen­er­a­tion.

And while we await an­swers and a re­stored Ex­ec­u­tive, we want to praise the Top 100 com­pa­nies, many of whom are our re­spected mem­bers, and re­mind them that NI Cham­ber is focused on sup­port­ing firms to scale up and ex­port in spite of un­cer­tainty.

We of­fer this through our Learn Grow Ex­cel ini­tia­tive of near mar­ket trade vis­its, one-to-one sup­port, cross bor­der meet the buyer event and more. We have also re­cently launched a new In­ter­na­tional Divi­sion to of­fer Brexit sup­port and help firms explore new mar­kets so that ex­port growth can con­tinue on an up­ward tra­jec­tory.

We would like to congratula­te those in the Top 100 for their hard work amid a very com­plex back drop and wish them con­tin­ued success for the year ahead.

BREXIT PRESENTS CHAL­LENGES ON MANY LEV­ELS, IN­CLUD­ING PUTTING PRES­SURE ON OUR EX­PORTS TO THE EU, AND THAT IS A PROMPT TO THOSE IN POWER WHEN CON­SID­ER­ING FU­TURE TRAD­ING AR­RANGE­MENTS AS PART OF A DEAL

Ann presents a Belfast Tele­graph award for Ex­port­ing Ex­cel­lence to Tony Con­very of CDE Global

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