Ireland’s hyper-globalised economy is often cited as a risk factor when in reality it has acted as a shield. When the State’s finances lay in ruins and unemployment mushroomed in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, exports were the only bright spot on an otherwise dismal horizon.
They drove the initial phase of Ireland’s recovery from that period. Similarly when Covid-19 hit and the domestic economy went into lockdown, pharma and IT exports provided an economic and financial buffer.
The Republic was one of the few countries to register positive economic growth in 2020 while tax receipts from companies in these sectors insulated the public finances, allowing the Government pay for Covid-related supports.
But the story of Ireland’s phenomenal export trade has an additional chapter. Since the lifting of restrictions last year and in the midst of another crisis – this time centred around energy prices and the cost of living – exports have again surged to record levels.
According to the latest trade data from the Central Statistics Office, the value of Irish exports for the first six months of 2022 rose to a new high of €105 billion, €25 billion (31 per cent) up on the previous year. On a monthly basis, they hit a record €20.2 billion in March.
This was followed by €17.7 billion in April, €18 billion in May and €17.5 in June. These figures constitute a step-change in the level of our exports.
They’re being driven – in the main – by the State’s pharma sector, which typically accounts for about 40 per cent of the goods exported from here.
The other aspect of the latest numbers was the pick-up in imports from Britain. Imports from our nearest neighbour were up by €4.8 billion (72 per cent) to €11.4 billion between January and June this year, compared with the same period in 2021, reflecting the rise in energy and fuel prices internationally. The Republic imports most of its energy and fuel from Britain.