Trade Figures Suggest Mixed Growth in NI Economy
Belfast Harbour has revealed that it handled 23 million tonnes of cargo during 2015, similar to its throughput for 2014. The tonnages suggest a varying performance between sectors in the wider Northern Ireland economy with commodities linked to the energy and consumer sectors growing, and the agri-food sector declining.
The number of freight vehicles handled, an indicator of consumer confidence, increased by 5,000, surpassing 480,000 for the first time. Imports of home heating oil grew by 13% to 843,000 tonnes as oil prices fell, driving liquid bulk imports to a five-year high of 2.3m tonnes.
Northern Ireland firms exporting construction materials also had a good year with stone exports rising by 6% to a record 1.5m tonnes. Exports of cement products were up 84% to 199,000 tonnes, the highest level for seven years.
Animal feed imports, however, fell back by 9% as the local agri-food sector reacted to well-documented difficult international trading circumstances during 2015. These included Russian economic sanctions on EU food products, and falling demand from Chinese and Middle East markets.
Roy Adair, Belfast Harbour’s CEO, said:
“While the overall figures suggest a steady economic performance for the wider Northern Ireland economy, there have been winners and losers. Construction material exports and freight traffic linked to consumer activity have been largely positive, as has been heating oil imports within the energy sector.
“On the downside, international marketplace challenges have negatively impacted Northern Ireland’s agri-food sector, leading to a 9% fall in animal feed imports, offsetting any tonnage gains and resulting in a similar tonnage performance to 2014.
“Overall, though, tonnages are more than seven million tonnes higher than the recession’s low point and our long-term projection is for continued tonnage growth. To support this the Harbour progressed a number of projects during 2015, including an upgrade of its Roll-On / Roll-Off and container handling facilities, plus a new Cruise ship berth.”
Regional Development Minister, Michelle McIlveen, said:
“The 2015 trade figures demonstrate that Belfast Harbour continues to be an anchor point for the Northern Ireland economy, supporting businesses in a variety of sectors. It will be increasingly important that the Harbour’s plans are shaped by the Executive’s wider priorities. Infrastructure development will be a key driver for the local economy and I’m pleased to note that the Harbour continues to invest to facilitate future growth.”
Steel imports were up 6% to 125,000 tonnes, almost three times higher than the recession’s low point of 2009, but container traffic declined by under 2% to 123,000 boxes, suggesting a slight decrease in overall manufacturing activity.
Ferry passenger numbers dipped slightly by 2% to just under 1.4m following three years of growth, while cruise passengers calling at Belfast continued to grow, increasing to 115,000 in 2015. Figures published recently revealed that during 2016 the total number of cruise visitors will continue to grow to 145,000.