Northern Ireland must renew its focus on export markets

Enterprise Minister, Arlene Foster said today that local businesses must capitalise on new sources of investment and opportunities from around the world.

Speaking during an Assembly debate which launched the Economic Strategy, the Minister said while the economic outlook remained uncertain, there were many positive signs of growth.

Included in the strategy are a number of new and more challenging targets such as:

  • Secure £1billion investment in the economy.

  • Increase the value of manufacturing exports by 20% by 2014/15.

  • Increase the value of manufacturing exports to the emerging economies by 60% by 2014/15.

  • A new commitment around youth unemployment which aims to deliver 6,000 work experience and training opportunities for young people by 2015 in priority sectors.

  • Increase visitor numbers and revenue by 4.2m and £676 million respectively.

Arlene Foster said: “The Economic Strategy is an ambitious document which aims to promote over 25,000 new jobs and provide significant investment into our economy to support business growth.

“Almost 100 responses were received, the majority of which were positive and constructive, in particular, in relation to our focus on developing export led growth. It is important to note that, many parts of the global economy are growing and we must work to build trading relationships and secure new orders in these markets.”

In order to support local companies develop their exports, the Minister said that Invest NI has strengthened its representation in the United States, Canada, Russia, Latin America and South Africa.

Arlene Foster continued: “This work will be further supported by an extensive programme of some 60 business missions this year, which will have a key focus on the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China. We will also continue to monitor and target opportunities in other emerging markets including focusing on the cash-rich countries of the Gulf.”

“All of this activity is designed to help us identify new sources of investment and opportunities on which Northern Ireland can capitalise. But to maximise the benefits of this work, we need to ensure that our local companies are aware of the trading opportunities that exist in these countries and we will do all we can to help them enter and succeed in these markets.”

Turning to access to finance, the Minister said she accepted this issue was a key challenge for many businesses throughout Northern Ireland.

Arlene Foster said: “Having a local banking sector that meets the needs of both consumers and businesses and provides bank lending on a competitive basis to local small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) is vital to economic recovery.

“For my part, I recently announced the manager for the Growth Loan Fund, which is part of Invest NI’s Access to Finance Strategy. The Growth Loan Fund will provide loans of between £50,000 and £500,000 over the next five years to businesses with growth projects in the manufacturing and tradable services sectors.

“I also announced the appointment of Clarendon to deliver the Co-investment Fund, which is a £16million equity fund aimed at stimulating the availability of risk capital to SMEs across Northern Ireland. These measures will help our local companies grow and meet our Programme for Government targets.

“The Executive will also continue to work with the UK Government as part of its initiative to rebalance the Northern Ireland economy. In addition, discussions continue on how we gain the power to set our own rate of corporation tax.”

Concluding the Minister said: “Despite the current difficult economic situation, I believe there are grounds for optimism. We have set out, in the strategy, some ambitious objectives and targets which as an Executive we will work together to achieve.”