Ireland’s trade surplus hits record €5bn as exports surge

Trade figures boosted by pick-up in exports of medical and pharmaceutical products

Containers stacked at Hamburg port: the EU accounted for €5.4bn or 49 per cent of total goods exports in March.  Photograph: Focke Strangmann/EPA

Containers stacked at Hamburg port: the EU accounted for €5.4bn or 49 per cent of total goods exports in March. Photograph: Focke Strangmann/EPA

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Ireland’s monthly trade surplus, the value of exports over imports, has breached €5 billion for the first time.

The stronger-than-expected performance for March was driven by exports of medical devices and pharmaceutical products, which increased by €720 million or 30 per cent to €3 billion.

As a result, the value of overall exports for the month rose by 10 per cent to €11 billion, the second largest monthly total on record.

At the same time, the value of imports in March fell by 15 per cent to €5.8 billion, resulting in a seasonally adjusted trade surplus of just over €5 billion, the highest on record.

Merrion economist Alan McQuaid said while the trade outlook for Ireland remains clouded in uncertainty because of Brexit, the latest numbers pointed to another solid performance this year.

“ Indeed, based on the very positive start to 2017, another record surplus now looks on the cards of around €49-50 billion,” he said.

The figures show exports to Britain decreased by 1 per cent to €1.1 billion in March compared with the same month last year.

However, exports to Britain increased in January to March by €124 million or 4 per cent compared with the first three months of 2016.

Belgium

The EU accounted for €5.4 billion or 49 per cent of total goods exports in March. The biggest EU destination for exports was Belgium, which accounted for €1.4 billion.

Antwerp is one of the largest global drug redistribution hubs and receives most of the State’s pharma exports which are not destined for the US.

The US was the main non-EU destination accounting for 27 per cent or nearly €3 billion of total exports in March, while exports to non-EU countries increased by €508 million or 10 per cent to €5.6 billion.

On the import side, petroleum imports increased by €128 million or 65 per cent in March, while imports of road vehicles decreased by €61 million or 17 per cent to €307 million.

The value of exports in March was also boosted by a strong out-turn in exports of electrical machinery and appliances, which increased by 60 per cent to €931 million.

Brexit impact

“One can only speculate as to how Brexit will impact Ireland in the coming months and years, but there is likely to be a negative impact on trade,” Mr McQuaid said.

He said the UK is the second largest single-country for Ireland’s goods and the largest for its services.

“At the same time, Ireland imports 30 per cent of its goods from the UK. While the UK might only account for 16-17 per cent of Ireland’s total exports, 30 per cent of all employment is in sectors which are heavily related to UK exports.”

“ SMEs [agri-food and tourism] will likely be more affected than larger companies by the introduction of tariffs and barriers to trade,” he added.

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