Northern Ireland Broad Economy Sales and Exports Statistics 2020

Date published: 15 December 2021

The latest Broad Economy Sales and Exports Statistics (BESES) for 2020 were published today by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

Latest Broad Economy Sales and Exports Statistics (BESES) for 2020
Latest Broad Economy Sales and Exports Statistics (BESES) for 2020

The bulletin can be accessed via the NISRA website.

The main results were:

Total value of external sales decreased by 6.2%:

  • The total value of external sales by Northern Ireland (NI) companies was estimated to be worth £21.2 billion in 2020. This represents a decrease of 6.2% (£1.4 billion) over the year in current prices, compared to an increase in the previous year of 1.6%.
  • External sales are comprised of:
    • Sales to Great Britain (GB) plus
    • Exports (sales to Ireland (IE), the Rest of Europe (REU) and the Rest of the World (ROW)).
  • Sales to GB increased marginally by £0.1 billion to £10.9 billion, up 0.7% over the year. GB is the only destination to experience a growth, albeit modest, in sales over the year.
  • Exports decreased by £1.5 billion (12.6%) over the year, to £10.3 billion. This follows four consecutive years of growth.

Decrease in sales to main export markets:

  • Exports to Ireland amounted to £4.1 billion in 2020 and were noticeably higher than those to the Rest of the EU combined (£2.2 billion). While Ireland remains our single largest export market, exports to Ireland decreased by £0.4 billion (9.7%) in 2020. As with total exports, this follows four consecutive years of growth.
  • Exports to the REU (EU, excluding IE) decreased over the year by £0.3 billion (10.7%) to £2.2 billion.
  • Exports to the ROW (all countries outside the EU) decreased by £0.8 billion (16.3%) over the year to £4.0 billion.

Sales within Northern Ireland decreased by 5.9%:

  • For the first time on survey record, the BESES shows that sales within NI decreased, falling by £2.9 billion between 2019 and 2020 to £45.9 billion, down 5.9% over the year. When added to the value of external sales, total sales by NI companies decreased by 6.0% (£4.3 billion) in 2020 to £67.1 billion.

District Council Area exports:

  • Belfast DCA accounted for the largest proportion of exports (21.0% or £2.2bn), followed by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon (15.4% or £1.6bn) and Newry, Mourne and Down (15.1% or £1.6bn).

Effect of COVID-19 and EU Exit on trade

  • Where a large change in trade is recorded over the year, it is normal practice to query the data with businesses. In the vast majority of cases, the changes in trade over the year 2019 to 2020 were explained by the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other releases

  • Input-Output tables (and their associated economic multipliers) for NI for survey year 2017 will be published on 16th December 2021.
  • The latest NI Composite Economic Index (NICEI) will be published on 13th January 2022.
  • The next Labour Market Report will be published on 18th January 2022

Notes to editors: 

1. This release provides information on the value of sales and exports generated by businesses in NI. Figures for 2020 are provisional and may be subject to revision. This information is consistent with results for the non-financial business economy published by NISRA in November 2021 (Annual Business Inquiry (ABI)) and can be found on the Annual Business Inquiry page of the NISRA website.

2. The full BESES publication and associated tables can be found via the NISRA website.

3. More detailed statistical information including data tables and definitions of the methodology used is available on the NISRA website.

4. The BESES series is designated as experimental statistics under the Code of Practice for Official Statistics reflecting the fact that they are still under development. The Code of Practice for Official Statistics recommends releasing statistical work in progress, such as experimental statistics. These are defined as “new official statistics undergoing evaluation that are published in order to involve users and stakeholders in their development and as a means to build in quality at an early stage”.

5. These statistics are currently undergoing review by the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) with a view to attaining National Statistics accreditation.

6. To keep up to date with news from the Department you can follow us on the following social media channels:

7. For media enquiries contact the Department for the Economy Press Office at

8. The Executive Information Service operates an out-of-hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

9. General information regarding trade statistics can be obtained from Damian Buchanan, Economic & Labour Market Statistics Branch, on Tel: (028) 9052 9648 or at

10. Follow NISRA on Twitter.

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