The strong and ever growing trade relations the province enjoys with the Dutch were celebrated during the 11th Northern Ireland Trade Dinner at Amsterdam’s award winning visitor attraction, The Heineken Experience. Following the Networking Reception, offered by the Netherlands Embassy London, guest speakers addressed the 120 strong audience of international companies and praised them for their continuous efforts in developing mutually beneficial business together.
The New Year’s dinner is organised by the Northern Ireland - Netherlands Trade and Export Society, a not for profit foundation, which was established in 2006. NI-NL plays an important role in supporting business relations between Northern Ireland and the Netherlands. From the 1st NI-NL Trade Dinner held in 2007 in Amsterdam, over 1100 Dutch and Northern Ireland trading partners have attended the annual event.
NI-NL Founder Steve Murnaghan, explained in his welcome, “NI-NL is a forum for likeminded business managers and owners to discuss current and future trading opportunities and challenges. The Annual Dinner is an occasion to get together, form partnerships and to discuss solutions with allied strategic partners not only for 2017 but for the years to come.”
His message to the Dutch customers and partners of NI companies was clear, that given the flexible nature of family run companies in the province, the low labour costs and the current value of sterling, that “There has never been a better time to do business with Northern Ireland”.
The annual event, the highlight of the NI-NL calendar, was attended by British Ambassador Sir Geoffrey Adams, based in The Hague, Fred Olthof of the Netherlands Embassy London and the Mayor of Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council Brian Bloomfield.
Director of Trade at Invest NI, Alison Gowdy referred in her address to the latest statistics which show that Northern Ireland has increased manufacturing exports over the last year by 6% to £7.41bn and that European markets represent 55 % of Northern Ireland export sales in total.
Ms. Gowdy explained “The Netherlands is a strategic partner for Northern Ireland business, large and small and across many business sectors, and the tremendously successful Going Dutch Programme, run in conjunction with Northern Ireland Trade Consultants, continues to deliver sustainable partnerships business for exporters from the province. Invest NI has a range of initiatives to support companies to develop opportunities such as the recently launched Export Ease workshop which provides an introduction to exporting into Europe and also a planned trade mission to the Benelux region in the Autumn”.
Over 100 companies have availed of ‘Going Dutch’ to take their first steps in exporting and many of the alumni from the programme present with partner companies for the New Year’s Trade Dinner were congratulated for their individual successes.
Gerard Wilson, Sales Director of Antrim based SAM, the UKs leading manufacturer of MDF Mouldings, looked back on the efforts they had put into the Dutch market over the last 8 years to develop sales into both the builders merchants and DIY chains since participating on Invest NI’s Going Dutch programme.
Looking back, he said, “The programme was a fantastic tool for the business and was our first step to becoming the committed exporter we are today. Not only did we benefit from Invest NI’s local expertise in receiving a detailed analysis of the market sector and meetings with all the key players, but it filled us with the confidence to invite European partners to our site and to roll out out new products globally - not only in Europe, but also the USA, Australia and South Africa.”
Wilson also had a clear message for the audience, including seven of their key Dutch customers, regarding SAM’s future in Europe. “It is clear that there will be uncertainty which could last several years and the result of negotiations will be out of our control so we need to focus and play with the cards that we have been currently dealt. At SAM we will continue to innovate new products, raise service levels and drive efficiencies to allow us to compete and partner with great companies, like our current Dutch customers and their teams. Therefore it is business as usual.”
Councillor Uel Mackin, Chairman of the Development Committee at Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council informed the audience, after a delicious 3 course dinner, that 70 local businesses from the Council area had also been assisted to explore new business opportunities in the Netherlands over more than a decade and that they remain committed to delivering export initiatives.
In the days prior to the dinner 5 aspirant exporters had embarked on the Council’s 13th consecutive trade mission to the Netherlands, participating in workshops, one-to-one mentoring sessions and individual meetings with 30 potential Dutch business partners throughout the country. And on the last night of the visit the 5 companies were given the opportunity to pitch the knowledgable multisectoral NI-NL audience with an insight into their export products and objectives for the Netherlands.
Northern Ireland is without doubt the most active business region within the UK in its approach to the Netherlands through the public - private partnership approach to NI-NL. The number of companies active between Northern Ireland and The Netherlands continues to grow day by day and events such as the Trade Dinner ensure that the 2 countries will remain trading partners for many more decades to come, no matter how choppy the waters may become across the Irish and North Seas.