Business

The challenges to FDI in a post-Brexit world

FDI has boosted economic growth and fuelled Northern Ireland’s ascendancy to the top of the field in a range of specialisms like cyber security

NORTHERN Ireland is a unique and wonderful place to live and work. And in recent years it has seen solid economic growth, much of which has been driven by foreign and direct investment (FDI).

But with Brexit looming our economy - like other regions in the UK - is facing new challenges and unprecedented levels of uncertainty.

As the British government enters negotiations with her European counterparts on the terms – and responsibilities – of the UK's ‘divorce' from Europe, our political leaders must ensure any deal takes on-board our region's unique history and challenges.

Furthermore, any such post-Brexit arrangements must not be allowed to undermine the great strides Northern Ireland has made in terms of securing high quality FDI in recent years.

Historically, international investors have been rightly attracted here by the ready availability of a highly-skilled workforce underpinned by excellent educational standards and our overall cost-competitiveness.

The challenge now is to continue to attract much-needed FDI in a totally new context and in the face of strong competition from the Republic of Ireland with its comparatively low levels of corporation tax and its continued access to Europe.

Unencumbered trading agreements are crucial if we are to build on the gamut of flourishing industries and infrastructural advantages hard-won in recent years.

FDI has not only boosted our economic growth, it has also fuelled Northern Ireland's ascendancy to the very top of the field in a range of some key specialisms.

We are now confirmed global leaders in cyber security, are enjoying an emerging legal IT supremacy and our innovative education sector has continued to trail blaze as a result of countless collaborative partnerships between industry and academia.

Last year, according to figures released by Invest NI, 18 new international companies invested in Northern Ireland's future by setting up their headquarters here – half of them US firms. Alongside this we've seen the development of what is now a burgeoning new film industry whilst our booming hospitality sector now complements a healthy tourist industry.

We could do better though. On a UK-wide basis, reports confirm that Northern Ireland attracts the least number of inward investments of any region, albeit with the highest number of new jobs per investment.

With Brexit now overshadowing our economy, we must recognise that a change in the status of our relationship with Europe need not sound the death knell for Northern Ireland Plc – provided business-friendly trading is placed front and centre of Brexit negotiations.

We believe that change brings opportunity, and thanks to Cleaver Fulton Rankin's own strong links in both London and Dublin we stand ready help to our clients navigate whatever comes their way.

:: Hilary Griffith (H.griffith@cfrlaw.co.uk) is head of corporate at Cleaver Fulton and Rankin (www.cfrlaw.co.uk), one of Northern Ireland's most established commercial law firms, founded almost 125 years ago

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