Brexit to hurt Irish imports from UK more than exports

Britain accounts for 24% of food, fuel and other merchandise brought into State

The impact of Brexit on the Irish economy is likely to be more keenly felt on the import side with new figures showing the UK was Republic’s biggest import market in 2017.

The figures, published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), show the UK accounted for 24 per cent or €19 billion worth of food, fuel and other merchandise imported into the State last year. This was nearly €3 billion more than the value of Irish exports to the UK.

Imports of food and beverages from the UK was the biggest category, accounting for €4 billion of the total, while imports of machinery and transport equipment came to €3.2 billion.

Imports of petroleum products from the UK were worth €2.7 billion, while imports of medical and pharmaceutical products were €3.1 billion.


A disorderly or no-deal Brexit with the imposition of World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs raises the prospect of sharp increases in costs for Irish importers.

The CSO figures confirm the findings of an earlier Department of Finance report, which pinpointed Ireland as a "substantial outlier" among EU states in terms of its exposure on imports to Brexit.

The report was commissioned last year as part of the Government’s Brexit contingency planning.

The latest CSO figures show Ireland exported €123 billion of goods in 2017, and imported €79 billion.

The US remains the State’s biggest export market, accounting for 27 per cent or €33 billion of the total. Medical and pharmaceutical products and organic chemicals comprised €20.5 billion, or 62 per cent of the State’s total exports to the US in 2017.

The UK market was the State’s second-largest export market and biggest EU export market, accounting for 12 per cent or €16 billion of the total.

Food and drink

The figures also revealed the extent of the food and drink sector’s exposure to Brexit. The State exported €12 billion of food and drink in 2017, of which €4.6 billion went to the UK.

Overall the Republic’s food and drink exports included 229,000 tons of cheese, 210,000 tons of butter, 165,000 tons of infant formula, 436 million litres of beer and 30 million litres of whiskey.

The figures also revealed Ireland imported €7.7 billion of food and drink in 2017, which included €3.7 billion from the UK.

Ireland’s imports included 72,000 tons of potatoes, 21,000 tons of coffee, 280 million litres of sugared non-alcoholic drinks, 70 million litres of mineral water and 83 million litres of wine.

The figures show the Republic’s biggest trading surplus in 2017 was with the US, where the value of exports was more than twice the value of imports, giving a trading surplus of almost €17 billion.

In contrast, the Republic ran trading deficit with the UK, importing nearly €3 billion more worth of goods than it exported.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times