Brexit fuels major pick-up in North-South trade

CSO figures point to sharp increase in imports from North in wake of UK’s EU exit

The value of goods being imported from Northern Ireland to the Republic has jumped by 77 per cent since the UK left the European Union at the start of the year, while the value of exports from the Republic to the North has risen by 43 per cent, according to new data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

The agency's latest trade numbers detail a major pick-up in North-South trade in the wake of Brexit.

They show the value of goods imports from Northern Ireland rose to €1.77 billion in the first six months of 2021, up from just under €1 billion for the same period last year.

Exports from the Republic to the North, meanwhile, rose to €1.57 billion, up from €1.1 billion last year.


Under the Northern Ireland protocol, trade in goods with Britain is subject to customs checks. However, while Northern Ireland remains within the customs territory of the UK, it is simultaneously within the EU single market for the movement of goods.

This means goods moving between Northern Ireland and the Republic are not subject to customs checks.

Some British-based traders have apparently established bases in the North to facilitate trade with the Republic, while some companies in Republic have replaced imports from Britain with imports from the North.

While the data has yet to be compiled on trade from Britain to Northern Ireland, it is understood to be significantly down as a result of difficulties with the implementation of the protocol.

Decrease in imports

The CSO figures show the value of Irish goods exports to Britain in the first six months of 2021 was €6.7 billion, an increase of €1.1 billion (20 per cent) on the first six months of 2020.

However, imports from Britain decreased by €213 million (16 per cent) to €1 billion compared with June 2020. The largest decreases were in the imports of food and live animals and manufactured goods.

Imports from Britain have been disrupted since Brexit with companies citing the challenges of complying with customs requirements.

The figures come in the wake of a report from professional services firm Grant Thornton, which suggests that almost four in 10 Irish businesses are reporting delays to their supply chain as a consequence of Brexit, while a substantial proportion have changed their export strategies ahead of an expected swelling of Brexit red tape over the next year.

The CSO figures show the value of Irish goods exports worldwide rose 1 per cent to €13.7 billion in June, the highest so far this year as trade in medical and pharmaceutical products linked to the pandemic remained strong, while imports rose by 4 per cent to €9 billion, resulting in a trade surplus of €4.6 billion.

The strong export performance was driven by exports of medical and pharmaceutical products, which increased by €328 million to €5.9 billion year on year in June.

The CSO said medical and pharmaceutical products accounted for 41 per cent total goods exports in June.

The Republic is a global hub for pharma and medtech, playing host to 24 of the top 25 biggest players, including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Roche, Novartis and AbbVie.

These companies have been ramping up production to meet soaring demand for medicines and products connected with the treatment of Covid-19.

The increase in imports was driven by imports of organic chemicals, which increased by €1.2 billion (202 per cent) to €1.9 billion year on year in June.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times