NI Economy: Plans to attract 150 investors to conference

  • By John Campbell
  • BBC News NI Economics and Business Editor

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Northern Ireland has the potential to be a major trading area, said Lord Johnson, the trade minister

The government aims to attract around 150 businesses to the Northern Ireland Investment Conference in the autumn.

The event, scheduled for September 12 and 13, was promised by the Prime Minister following the Windsor Framework Agreement.

At the time, Rishi Sunak said the deal made Northern Ireland „the most exciting economic region in the world”.

Mr Sunak said the region offered unique access to the UK and EU markets.

Trade minister Lord Johnson reiterated that, saying it gave Northern Ireland the opportunity to be „a vital trading area”.

Speaking to BBC News NI, he said the conference aims to showcase opportunities for infrastructure and property investment and direct job creation.

He said he was explaining the opportunities in Northern Ireland to large investors such as pension funds.

„They’re already very excited,” he said.

„I told them about the opportunities in Belfast and they went there to see what they were, there was a lot of interest.”

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President Joe Biden told an audience in Belfast that many American companies want to invest in Northern Ireland

When US President Joe Biden visited Northern Ireland earlier this year, he suggested that US companies would be willing to invest billions of dollars if they could see political stability.

The US Inflation Act includes tax incentives for green technologies aimed at attracting investment in the US.

Lord Johnson said Northern Ireland and the wider UK still had opportunities to attract businesses to these growth sectors.

„The UK already spends a significant proportion of GDP (gross domestic product) on our net zero ambitions,” he said.

„America is relatively late to the party.

„I’m not as negative as some on the deflation bill because the US spends so much on such an important area and obviously a lot of UK companies could benefit from it.”

Defense cost

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) should improve efforts to buy equipment from Northern Ireland businesses, a think-tank has said.

According to official data from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the MoD spends just £60 per person in Northern Ireland, compared to an average of £310 across the UK.

Last year, the MoD awarded a £1.6bn contract for three Royal Navy support vessels, which will be partly built at Harland and Wolff in Belfast.

Spirit Aerosystems’ Belfast operation is bidding for defense work and the Belfast factory Thales is best known for making NLAW anti-tank missiles used by the Ukrainian military.

RUSI said these „three key businesses at the top of the supply chain” have significant potential for Northern Ireland.

But it said the MoD needed to do more to encourage and help smaller firms to bid for defense work.

„This initiative should involve initiatives from across the UK defense acquisition community, both in government and the private sector.”

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