With InterTradeIreland set to mark 20 years of assisting small firms and other stakeholders to explore cross-border business on the island of Ireland, Aidan Gough InterTradeIreland’s Designated Officer and Director of Strategy and Policy talks exclusively to Business First Online about market evolution, Brexit preparedness and where InterTradeIreland see new opportunities.
Describing the much-changed landscape of cross-border trade on the island, Aidan believes there has been a major shift away from the minimal interaction between the two economies of two decades ago, borne out of lack of engagement and relationships between businesses. This has been helped in part thanks to the work of InterTradeIreland in fostering, supporting and developing the business and research community’s links between north and south.
“The major difference between then and now is that new relationships now exist and thus it is easier for us to facilitate engagement and to go after opportunities,” says Aidan.
Since its creation, the Newry-based cross-border body, which primarily assists small businesses in Ireland and Northern Ireland to explore cross-border markets, develop new products, processes and services and to become investor ready, has overseen an average annual four per cent increase in cross-border trade and recent figures show a record high all-Ireland trading market in excess of seven billion Euro for 2017.
Over the past two decades, InterTradeIreland has engaged with 42,000 businesses across the island and directly supported around 9,000. Those businesses have generated over €1.2 billion in business development value through additional cross-border sales, investments or efficiency savings and have created close to 16,000 jobs in the small business sector across the island.
“Our supports facilitate small businesses to get on to the export ladder. We know from our research that 75 per cent of businesses that have gone on to sell off the island took their first steps on the export ladder through entrance into the other market on the island.” adds Aidan.
InterTradeIreland places a high value on its research which informs their understanding of the all-island market and programme development. InterTradeIreland’s All-Island Quarterly Business Monitor ensures the organisation remains “on the pulse” of small business sentiment across the island.
Given the understanding of the closeness and importance of the economic ties linking Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain, InterTradeIreland’s role is even more important since the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
“We recognised early on that businesses were not getting ready despite the fact that Brexit could pose a considerable threat to their existing business model. We found that businesses were not preparing and weren’t factoring in the risk,” says Aidan.
Even for those businesses not yet engaged in Brexit planning, it is not too late to identify risks and opportunities. Recognition of the overwhelming nature of Brexit for small business and the opportunity to still identify exposure and mitigate risk is the basis for InterTradeIreland’s enhancement of its Brexit Advisory Service. Businesses can secure up to £4,500 of funding and benefit from a new free bespoke online resource Bitesize Brexit which breaks down practical steps to prepare for Brexit into bitesize chunks which can be readily understood and actioned.