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