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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 March, 2003, 18:22 GMT
New targets for NI exporters
Company bosses in Northern Ireland have been challenged to boost exports after it emerged that just 10 firms are responsible for 50% of the province's external sales.

Invest Northern Ireland chairman Professor Fabian Monds said he wanted companies to help set a new record by pushing exports beyond the current 4bn mark.

Launching the business promotions agency's new Trade Programme, Professor Monds said they aimed to achieve a 10% per year growth in exports over the next three years.

One of the key objectives of the initiative is to help more small to medium sized enterprises secure significant business outside Northern Ireland.

Invest NI is to offer more than 40 separate activities in the international marketplace over the next 12 months to enable companies succeed overseas.

The message that firms have to widen their horizons to ensure growth or even survival, is getting through
Professor Fabian Monds
Invest NI chairman

"Increased global sales, in turn, will mean a stronger, more dynamic and robust economy with greater opportunities for local people," said Professor Monds.

Individual companies, first-time exporters and those already successful in overseas markets, will be targeted by the agency through customised business solutions.

"Helping companies succeed in export markets is a key priority, added Mr Monds.

"With a 133% increase in manufacturing exports over the last 10 years, the message that firms have to widen their horizons to ensure growth or even survival, is getting through.


"Despite the problems experienced in recent years - the strength of sterling, difficulties in agriculture, textiles and clothing and the present global economic uncertainties - companies are winning business in many of the world's most difficult markets."

The most recent survey of exports indicated that those of Northern Ireland companies had increased by 4.6% - 184 million - to 4.2 billion a year.

With exports accounting for 38% of all sales some 76,000 manufacturing jobs are estimated to rely on sales outside Northern Ireland.

However, while the export statistics may be impressive there was no room for complacency, according to Mr Monds.

"The figures disguise the fact that three large companies currently contribute 21% and 10 companies provide some 50% of exports from Northern Ireland," he said.

"The challenge that needs to be addressed is encouraging and equipping more enterprising small to medium sized companies to seek out new business opportunities in overseas markets."

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