Building up to the World Trade Summit: Interview with NI Chamber

Tue 30 May 2017
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
IOE News

Ahead of the World Trade Summit in Northern Ireland, we talk to Sandra Scannell, Head of Business Services at NI Chamber, about Brexit and why events such as the summit are vital for businesses planning for it.

What will you be speaking about at the trade summit?

NI Chamber is a member organisation with a mission to help businesses grow locally and internationally.  We provide a comprehensive range of events and programmes which support member’s ambition to promote their business, as well as network, learn and be inspired.  NI Chamber is also committed to the development of the Northern Ireland Economy and believes the focus on increasing exports is and should be a priority for all of us in business.  The support we provide is private sector designed and delivered complementing the work of Invest NI and we will use the Summit to outline the private sector’s commitment to ensuring we drive our own path towards export success.  More can be achieved if we work together and learn from the experiences and successes of others.  

Why do you think events such as the trade summit are important for NI businesses?

Whilst Northern Ireland has a number of forward and outward looking businesses who realise that our home market is naturally small and restricted, we need to encourage and inform more to increase our levels of export. Events such as these are an ideal platform for bringing together likeminded businesses who are seeking new opportunities in global markets, providing them with useful advice and information to help them succeed.

What are your hopes and fears for the post-Brexit landscape?

Government must work with businesses to secure the best possible deal with the EU.  As a business development organisation our focus is therefore on skills and trade. This means protecting the status of EU nationals in the UK, developing future customs procedures in partnership with business, creating a future UK immigration system that is responsive to economic needs and skills shortages at all levels, and ensuring that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  The challenges of Brexit are much more manifold in Northern Ireland than they are elsewhere in the UK, especially in light of the volume of trade carried out on a cross border basis. Even very practical questions like what kind of border patrols will exist, or indeed will border controls exist post the Brexit deal, are real, imminent and they only increase the uncertainty for local firms.

What tips would you give to exporters in Northern Ireland businesses in terms of planning for the potential outcomes Brexit?

Some NI Chamber members are currently starting to plan for Brexit. This involves preparing for and researching potential tariffs, looking at non EU members who are paying tariffs into the EU, and assessing currency volatility risks.  Our members tell us that despite Brexit, the EU will remain a key trading partner for them. There is also significant potential for new trading opportunities for Northern Ireland businesses and there is already some evidence of this from the NI Chamber’s most recent Quarterly Economic Survey (QES) for Q1 2017, suggesting that Brexit has encouraged some members to look towards new export markets opportunities - for example North America.