Exports of medical and pharmaceutical products across the border have risen by hundreds of millions of pounds since the start of last year.
he increase is not just linked to Brexit, as was widely reported, but also to booming sales around the Covid crisis.
Co Antrim-based Randox, a market leader in testing that has invested millions during the period, has processed more than 22 million PCR tests since the beginning of 2021.
The company has a contract to carry out tests, each costing between £30 and £75, at Belfast and Dublin Airports.
Of the total increase in exports from Northern Ireland of just over £1bn in the first 10 months of the year, a third, or £335m, was linked to medical and pharmaceutical products, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in Dublin.
An overall £475m worth of these products was shipped over the border, out of a total of £2.7bn.
The increase was largely attributed to greater traffic in food and beverage products. It is not yet clear how much of that increase was connected to Brexit, how much was shipped to the EU and what part Covid played, said Gareth Hagan (right), deputy chief executive with business consultants OGC Global.
Northern Ireland firms supplying medical products are enjoying a “bonanza”, added Mr Hagan, whose firm is studying the import and export of medical and pharmaceutical products in partnership with the Department for the Economy.
Randox has invested £85m since March 2020 in the building and equipping of more than 80,000 sq ft of laboratory space at its science park in Antrim. It has also hired 850 new staff.
The company said it was able to respond rapidly to the pandemic, developing the largest Covid-19 laboratories and support networks across both Ireland and the UK.
“Randox currently has capacity for 180,000 PCR tests per day and, as well as supporting the UK’s national testing programme, is the leading provider of private Covid-19 testing in Ireland and the UK,” a spokesperson said.
“To date, Randox has processed more than 22 million PCR tests, in addition to providing a comprehensive lateral flow testing service where required.”
Of the categories that have significantly added to the import numbers, the easiest to understand is the amount of food and beverage crossing the border, said Mr Hagan.
But the figures around medicines, particularly how much are being moved through Northern Ireland from Great Britain, are more complicated.
Medical and pharmaceutical exports directly from Great Britain to Ireland dropped by €200m during the first 10 months of the year, the CSO figures show.
Companies such as Randox and the Craigavon-based medical services firm Almac are directly benefiting from being in the same regulatory environment as the rest of the EU, Mr Hagan said.
He added: “All of a sudden, they are doing so much business, it is a bonanza time.”
His firm will be studying how large a part Covid has played in the increase.