“Northern Ireland’s transformation into an innovation-driven economy, harnessing the creativity of its people and the commercial potential of its scientific and technological excellence, provides significant investment and trade opportunities for European companies,” Ian Pearson MP, the Minister with responsibility for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, said today.

Mr Pearson was speaking at an event to promote business opportunities in Northern Ireland organised by Derry Investment Initiative (DII) at the Austrian Embassy in London. The event, ‘Business Opportunities in Northern Ireland’, was organised by DII in partnership with Invest NI, Northern Ireland’s economic development body, Derry City Council and Investment Belfast.

Mr Pearson said: “Building on the existing strong links which already exist between Northern Ireland and other parts of Europe is one of my Department’s strategic priorities.

“In 2000/2001, for example, manufacturing sales by Northern Ireland companies to the existing members of the European Union exceeded £1.6 billion – almost a third of total overseas sales.

“Our aim is to encourage many more Northern Ireland companies to take a global view and to grow their business by developing trade and exploring technology transfer with potential partners in Europe.

“A £2 billion Strategic Investment Programme, being planned by the Government over the next five years, will make Northern Ireland an even more attractive place for global companies seeking an effective business location.

“In addition, my Department and Invest NI, are already working in a dynamic partnership with the private and academic sectors to build on and expand existing strengths in science, innovation and creativity. This focus will help to accelerate and sustain Northern Ireland’s economic growth over the long-term,” he added.

The Minister said that Northern Ireland offered incentives in terms of a well educated and highly motivated workforce, customised business solutions from Invest NI, a pro-business Government and a supportive infrastructure.

“These incentives have helped to attract substantial investment from European industry leaders. International companies such as Thales, Michelin, Montupet, Preussag AG, Arntz Opti-Belt, Triumph Adler and Pernod Ricard, as well as US and Asian businesses, such as Nortel Networks, DuPont, Caterpillar, Bombardier, Seagate Technology, Acer and Ryobi, are all present in Northern Ireland,” Mr Pearson said.

The Minister said European Union support underpinned plans by the Government, Invest NI, existing companies and the universities to drive innovation, for example, through the establishment of Centres of Excellence for R&D.

He said: “Northern Ireland is a modern and vibrant community with a strong commitment to innovation and enterprise. It is a region with a long industrial tradition based on sound business practice and a sharp European focus.

“It is within this context that I would encourage you to explore the business opportunities, particularly the investment and trade development linkages, that are possible,” added Mr Pearson.

The event was hosted by Dr Alexander Christiani, the Austrian Ambassador, and included a presentation from Jim Dougal, Head of the European Commission in the UK. The other keynote speakers were: Gerry Henry, Director City Marketing, Derry City Council; Michele Shirlow, Head of Invest NI’s Trade Sectors; Brendan Mullan, Chief Executive, Investment Belfast; and Christian Schierer, Commercial Attache, Austrian Embassy.

Taking part were trade commissioners from 15 EU states, 10 states soon to join the EU and 12 Heads of Bilateral Chambers of Commerce.