North's Dutch trade links 'will strengthen' despite Brexit

Pictured at the NI-NL trade dinner in the Crumlin Road Gaol are Alderman Allan Ewart (Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council), Steve Harper (Invest NI and Steve Murnaghan (NI Trade Consultants) with (second right) Deputy Ambassador Nick Heath of the British Embassy in The Hague
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE flourishing business and leisure links between Northern Ireland and the Netherlands "will continue and strengthen despite Brexit", a trade export dinner in Belfast has been told.

Representatives of more than 60 exporters from the north joined 40 Dutch guests in the Crumlin Road Gaol at the 12th annual trade dinner organised by the Northern Ireland - Netherlands (NI-NL) Trade and Export Society, founded in 2006 by Invest NI, Lisburn City Council and NI Trade Consultants

NI-NL proactively assists in encouraging and developing bilateral partnerships in trade, enterprise and investment between the regions (the Netherlands is now the fourth most important European market for Northern Ireland manufacturers behind the Republic of Ireland, Germany and France).

Delegates acknowledge the obvious threat Brexit will present, but given the flexible nature of relationships that have been nurtured over recent years, they insist the long-established links can continue.

That comes despite a leak of the latest economic impact assessment, drawn up for the Department for Exiting the EU, concluding that the UK will be worse off after Brexit, whatever deal is struck with Brussels.

That report says that even if Theresa May is able to negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement,growth will still be down 5 per cent over the next 15 years, and that would rise to 8 per cent if the UK left without a deal and was forced to fall back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

Alternatively, if the UK were to retain access to the single market through membership of the European Economic Area, the loss would be just 2 per cent.

Steve Harper, executive director of international business at Invest NI, told the NI-NL trade dinner that growing exports remains "critical" to the north's economy, and the Dutch are playing a key role in this.

He said that in the last 12 months Northern Ireland, driven by the fall in sterling, has increased manufacturing exports by 13 per cent to £8.25 billion, and the Netherlands remains a key strategic partner for local business, large and small.

Four of the Dutch guests - Werner Bos (Van Wees), Bart van Schelt (Oldenboom), Jeroen Coesmans (Decora Blinds) and Frank Mélotte (Limes International) each outlined their experiences of doing business with Northern Ireland, while in turn there were reciprocal presentations from Philip Morrow (PRM), Diane Risk (Belfast City Airport), Colin Wells (Keylite Windows) and from Moy Park.

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