Go Further Grow Stronger – the benefits of selling outside Northern Ireland

The benefits of exporting are well documented at both a company and overall economy level. Besides offering significant growth opportunities through increased sales and enhancing resilience from economic shocks, firms exporting to a wide range of markets contribute to improving productivity, driving innovation, and their export-fuelled growth can create and sustain high quality jobs. And importantly for Northern Ireland, the distribution of export activity right across the region means that trade and its associated benefits, can be a driver of regionally balanced and inclusive growth.

Economy Minister Conor Murphy stated in his economic vision that the Windsor Framework puts Northern Ireland in the unique and highly advantageous position of being able to trade goods freely with both Great Britain (GB) and European Union (EU) market. But whilst some 12,000 of Northern Ireland’s 80,000 VAT-registered businesses currently sell outside the region, leveraging our dual market access advantage presents scope to increase Northern Ireland’s exporting base, and the value of our sales to these two major economies.

As businesses begin to export, they will naturally look to the nearest markets – GB and the Republic of Ireland (RoI), and indeed these make up the greatest portion of all sales outside Northern Ireland. In 2022, of the £29bn of sales outside Northern Ireland, over half went to GB, 22% to RoI and just 9% to the rest of the EU. In the context of a European economy of 500 million consumers, that imports €6.5 trillion of goods annually, including sectors that align with Northern Ireland’s strengths in advanced manufacturing, agri-food, and life and health sciences, there is clearly room for growth. And with Northern Ireland’s continued regulatory alignment with EU standards and no additional approvals needed to place regulated goods on the GB market, we are the ideal source market for EU and GB buyers of such goods.

For those businesses already selling successfully into RoI, going ‘off-island’, and targeting mainland Europe is the natural next step. Simply put, if you’re selling to Louth or Limerick, your next step could be to explore Lille or Lisbon.

Among the Northern Ireland companies that are already successfully exporting to the EU is Saintfield company Bellamoon. The award-winning company exports its innovative baby products to France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain. And Ballyclare-based Genie Insights, which supplies solar panels designed for use on commercial vehicles, has customers in GB, RoI, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia. PAC Composites, a specialist division of PAC Group based in Belfast, is a premier supplier of equipment for the composites industry and has recently won new business in the Netherlands.

Invest Northern Ireland has a wide range of support for businesses that are either already exporting or are considering taking their first steps into markets outside Northern Ireland. Our Go Further Grow Stronger initiative highlights this support, which includes comprehensive market information and in-market trade advisers across GB and mainland Europe, who can advise on how to pitch for business, provide local insights and identify potential customers or partners.

As a first step, businesses can test their export readiness by completing Invest NI’s free Export Health Check which provides a tailored report. It is quick to complete, and businesses can request a follow-up call from an Invest NI adviser who will provide tailored guidance including signposting them to relevant sources of support to help them build a strategy for breaking into a new market.  

Whether your business is getting ready to sell outside Northern Ireland for the first time or you're looking to expand sales into the EU, Invest NI can help. 

Go Further Grow Stronger – visit www.investni.com/export to take the Export Health Check and unlock your potential.

This piece first appeared in Business Eye in April 2024.