University of Ulster NISRA BDR Programme

Lead Research Organisation: University of Ulster
Department Name: Ulster Business School


The proposed research aims to improve our understanding of the relationships between firms' engagement in markets external to Northern Ireland (NI) and their performance. The overall aim of the project would be to develop a new evidence base which adds to current knowledge about the role of exporting and importing, and those firms engaged in such activities, within the NI economy.

Our central research questions are:

RQ1: What relationship is there between firm/sector characteristics and internationalisation (both exporting and importing) for NI firms?

RQ2. What can we say about the contributions of extensive (numbers of market sold to or imported from) and intensive (increasing sales/purchases) margins to overall export growth for the NI economy?

The existing literature in this research field shows how firms engaged in international trade (in the main exporting) tend to be more capital intensive, more innovative, pay higher wages and are more productive than their non-exporting peers. Evidence for this has been shown for NI firms engaged in cross-border trade and for NI exports. Our additional contribution, and of particular interest to those engaged in the 10X Economy policy development, would be the effect of sectoral characteristics (including export intensity, productivity, etc) on the propensity and intensity of exporting by firms in those sectors. We also aim to extend the analysis to examine the effect of importing behaviour, which has received less focus in previous research.

Through this BDR initiative we propose to offer both a very detailed descriptive analysis of export (and import) performance - by market, by sector and by geography - over the 2014-2020 period as well as relating this to economic performance in those external markets and industrial sectors. We will follow this by looking at export strategies at the firm level in order to explain the larger trade patterns that we are seeing in the time series. This will offer some evidence to test out the export promotion and 'pathway to exporting' approaches that have been followed in policy spheres.

The second stage of the analysis, which seeks to analyse the relationship between business characteristics and exporting, and separately identify whether there is an export premia (or import premia) on business performance, will be undertaken via econometric analysis, using standard techniques from the literature.

The project's deliverables will include a main report containing both a descriptive analysis of exporters and non-exporters and likewise, importers and non-importers (by size, detailed sector, priority sector and geography), along with econometric analysis which seeks to analyse the statistical relationship between business and performance characteristics and the various internationalisation status variables i.e. exporting, importing, export intensity, broad export market orientation.

This main report will help support the Department for the Economy (DfE) in their research priorities, specifically in terms of the 10X Economy, by providing an understanding of NI's exporter base. It will enable an up-to-date profile of exporting firms to be established in terms of which characteristics are most associated with exporting and whether this changes depending on the broad market destination, and in terms of the intensity of exporting. It will also enable an assessment of the impact of exporting on business performance, thereby helping to support policy development in this area. Finally, by including analysis of importers, it will provide a more complete understanding of the internationalisation of NI's business population.


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