The economies of Ireland and Northern Ireland are closely connected. The benefits of free and open trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland have become readily apparent and we have been working –particularly through the services offered by InterTradeIreland (ITI) – to promote trade and business on an all-island and cross-border basis.
InterTradeIreland ITI is one of the six North/South Implementation Bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement. The body is jointly funded by my Department and its Northern Ireland counterpart, the Department for the Economy. ITI’s objective is to support businesses, through innovation and trade initiatives, to take advantage of North South co-operative opportunities, driving competitiveness, jobs and growth. ITI helps small businesses explore new cross-border markets, develop new products and services and become investor ready.
ITI is playing a major role as part of the Government’s wider Brexit response. ITI’s Brexit Advisory Service, which provides a range of advice and supports to eligible businesses, has already engaged – this year alone – with more than 4,500 SMEs. I increased ITI’s capital allocation by €1m this year and I intend to increase it again in 2020, to enable it to provide a range of initiatives aimed at assisting SMEs to prepare for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
My Department also provided funding for a series of research reports, undertaken by the ESRI on behalf of ITI, which assessed the potential implications of Brexit for cross-border trade. This research has helped us to better understand the implications of Brexit on existing trade and to identify the sectors and business types which are most likely to need support in preparation for the changing trading relationship ahead of us.
ITI marks its 20th anniversary of promoting cross-border trade this year. During that time, the body has assisted over 39,000 businesses, supported the creation of 14,800 jobs and has generated more than £1bn/€1.2billion in business development value through its programmes and initiatives. Cross border trade now stands at an all-time high and we will continue to support its growth, notwithstanding the challenges presented by Brexit, in the years ahead.