As Ireland diversifies, Britain beefs up trade with us

Cantillon: Products from neighbour accounted for 21% of all Irish imports in 2020

Imports from Britain are diverse but include machinery and transport (worth €4.4 billion in 2020), food (worth €3.8 billion) and chemicals (worth €2.8 billion).

Imports from Britain are diverse but include machinery and transport (worth €4.4 billion in 2020), food (worth €3.8 billion) and chemicals (worth €2.8 billion).

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When you think of Ireland’s trade with Britain, you tend to think of us as the supplier and them as the consumer. Historically most of our food produce was exported there. Our export trade had one market for most of the 20th century. It’s easy to forget that Irish-British trade is now very much a two-way street.

The extent of this was borne out in the last trade numbers from the Central Statistics Office (CSO), which show that last year the Republic ran a trade deficit of €5.4 billion with Britain. In other words we imported €5.4 billion worth more goods from them than they imported from us.

The value of Irish exports to Britain in 2020 was €12.4 billion while the value of imports from Britain totalled €17.8 billion.

Big ticket categories

The figures showed exports to our nearest neighbour accounted for just 8 per cent of total goods exports in 2020. However, and this is the surprising bit, imports from Britain accounted for 21 per cent of total Irish imports last year.

So while we’ve been busy diversifying away from the UK market, they’ve been busy beefing up their trade here.

Imports from Britain are diverse but the big ticket categories include machinery and transport (worth €4.4 billion in 2020), food (worth €3.8 billion) and chemicals (worth €2.8 billion).

Brexit process

The Brexit process was dominated by warnings about the potential threat to Irish exports like beef and cheese, which rely heavily on the British market, with little or no mention of the threat to imports, which are subject to the same potential barriers.

Bord Bia’s latest export performance and prospects report shows that the majority of growth in food exports since 2016 (€1.9 billion) comes via the EU27 market and international markets (non-European), with the UK accounting for just 10 per cent of growth.

Nonetheless, Bord Bia noted the value of Irish food-and-drink exports to the UK has grown by €1.9 billion or 16 per cent since the UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016.

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