Exports by Enterprise Ireland clients reach record high
Majority of markets, including UK, grew in 2018 despite Brexit and trade uncertainty
Minister of Business Heather Humphreys, Enterprise Ireland chairman Terence O’Rourke and Enterprise Ireland chief executive Julie Sinnamon. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Exports by Enterprise Ireland clients reached a record high of €23.8 billion last year, with most markets, including the UK, growing in a year characterised by Brexit and trade uncertainty.
The State agency said exports rose 6 per cent in 2018 on the previous year with euro-zone exports rising 7.5 per cent to €4.8 billion. Exports to North America rose 5.5 per cent to €3.87 billion.
But exports to Asia Pacific, a market on which the agency is increasingly focused, dipped 0.2 per cent to €2 billion, something that was described as “disappointing” by chief executive Julie Sinnamon.
“The volumes have increased but the value of the volume going into the market has decreased so that is something which has impacted,” she said, noting that non-food exports to Asia-Pacific rose 10 per cent while food exports, in value terms, tumbled 6 per cent. Volatility in food pricing and dairy in particular was credited with causing the drop.
While the UK remains the Republic’s biggest trading partner from an Enterprise Ireland perspective, Enterprise Ireland has made progress in spreading exports across other regions. The euro zone accounts for 20 per cent of exports, while North America accounts for 17 per cent.
Concern was raised after the US treasury department included the Republic on its economic watch list on Tuesday as it broadened the range of nations it is reviewing for signs of unfair economic practices.
The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys, said inclusion on the list was not “at a serious level yet” but that it is being considered by her department. She added that multinational companies locating in the Republic, including those from the US, “gain financial benefits which supports their worldwide operations”.
For the most part, Enterprise Ireland’s results announcement was focused on Brexit and the growth of exports to the UK despite heightened uncertainty. That growth of 4 per cent to €7.9 billion came with reduced dependency on the market.
Ms Sinnamon noted that the agency spent €74 million in 2018 on 535 companies to help them with Brexit diversification.
An accompanying Brexit survey undertaken by the agency found 40 per cent of exporters have already been negatively affected by Brexit while 38 per cent expect revenue to be under pressure this year.
While broadly positive on the performance of Irish exporters, Ms Sinnamon flagged that more has to be done with research and development spending.
While spending on research and development rose 5.6 per cent to €970 million in 2018, “stronger growth is required to reach our 2020 target for companies to spend €1.25 billion on R&D”.
“Accelerated investment in innovation is critical across all sectors to underpin export growth and maintain competitiveness,” she said.