Companies in Northern Ireland remain committed to strong trading relationships with European customers and suppliers despite the UK’s vote to leave the EU, according to the results of an international trade survey.
The results of the survey, which covers 12 regions of the UK, including Northern Ireland, and carried out by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), in partnership with the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber), show that the exporters surveyed continue to regard Europe as an important trading partner.
Around three-quarters of respondents currently sell (76%) and source (73%) goods and services in the EU market.
The findings show that over a third (36%) of businesses plan on putting more resources into exporting to the European market over the next five years. Europe also remains the market where the higher percentage of businesses (18%) is planning on allocating more resources to sourcing products and services from.
Asked whether the EU referendum had influenced their approach to exporting, nearly a third (31%) said they were looking to export more.
The majority (65%) say the EU referendum hasn’t changed their strategy for importing, while 15% say that they are interested in sourcing more internationally.
However, there are signs of caution, with 13% looking to source less internationally, which may be as a result of the falling value of the pound making imports more expensive.
Thinking about future trade arrangements with Europe, UK companies surveyed consider the issues of tariffs; non-tariff barriers; and product standards, certification and compliance as the three top priorities for resolution in talks on a Brexit deal. Firms cited the issue of the border as their biggest concern.
Chamber CEO Ann McGregor said: “Locally we are seeing evidence that some members are focused on expanding into new export markets in response to Brexit which is a real positive. Equally, however, we have members where the uncertainty created by Brexit has had an immediate and negative impact on business performance.
“Looking ahead, businesses want the best possible terms of trade following the Brexit negotiations, whatever the ultimate model adopted. Clarification on any sort of border controls is crucial.”
Shaun McAnee, of Danske Bank, partners to Chamber in its Export First programme, said exports were a key component of growing the economy.
“Given our strong trading relationship with the Republic, ease of access to the single market is vitally important for local businesses. To protect the Northern Ireland economy it is important that this relationship is factored into any Brexit negotiations.”