Irish exports hit record €15.7bn in March as demand for medicines surges

Latest figures show massive jump in exports of medical and pharmaceutical products

Irish exports jumped to a record €15.7 billion in March as demand for medicines and other treatments connected with the Covid-19 pandemic surged.

The latest trade figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show goods exports rose by €4.3 billion or 38 per cent in the space of one month in March. The increase was driven by exports of medical and pharmaceutical products, which rose by 60 per cent to €5.8 billion, and exports of organic chemicals, which increased by 121 per cent to €4.3 billion.

The Republic is a global hub for pharma and medtech, playing host to 24 of the top 25 biggest players, including Johnson & Johnson, Roche, Pfizer, Novartis and AbbVie. Pharma exports account for about 60 per cent of total Irish goods exports, worth over €70 billion a year.

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


Cork-based Gilead Sciences produces the antiviral drug remdesivir, the only drug so far proven to help Covid-19 patients. Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, are pumping hundreds of millions of euro into separate projects aimed at developing a vaccine.

The CSO figures show seasonally adjusted goods imports fell by 21 per cent to €6.7 billion. This included a 54 per cent fall in imports of “other transport equipment”, which includes aircraft.


In contrast to pharma, aircraft leasing is in the eye of the storm, with airline fleets across the world grounded while authorities try to contain the virus.

The jump in exports combined with the decline in imports resulted in a record headline trade surplus of nearly €9 billion for March, a jump of 215 per cent on the previous month.

The EU accounted for just over €6 billion or 37 per cent of total goods exports in March, up 37 per cent, of which €1.9 billion went to Germany and €1.4 billion went to Belgium.

Antwerp is one of the largest global drug redistribution hubs and receives most of the State's pharma exports that are not destined for the United States.

The US was the single largest export destination, accounting for €5.3 billion or 33 per cent of total exports in March.

The figures show the EU accounted for €2.1 billion (31 per cent) of total goods imports in March, which is a decrease of €747 million (26 per cent) compared with March 2019.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times