Irish exports surge to €306bn as pandemic spurs trade in IT and pharma

CSO figures reveal computer services and chemicals dominate State’s exports

The Republic exported a record €306 billion worth of goods and services last year as trade in IT (information technology) services and pharmaceuticals spiked during the pandemic.

Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures show the State exported €244 billion worth of services in 2020, up 6 per cent on the previous year.

More than half (55 per cent or €134 billion) were what the CSO classified as computer services, which covers hardware and software-related services as well as data-processing services.

Many of the biggest global names in tech – Google, Microsoft, Intel, Apple and Facebook – have operations here.


The figures show the State also imported €306 billion worth of services in 2020, much of it related to imports of intellectual property (IP), resulting in a net deficit for services of €62 billion.

Research and development (R&D) service imports, at €104 billion, along with royalties/licences imports at €84 billion, were the largest import categories, the CSO said, while noting the US, UK, Germany and the Netherlands remain Ireland's most significant trading partners.

At the same time, the State exported €162 billion worth of goods, 6.6 per cent more than the previous year, pharmaceutical companies increased output to cope with increased demand.

Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures show exports of chemicals and related products accounted for €106 billion or 65 per cent of the total.

Within this medical and pharmaceutical products accounted for €62 billion or 38 per cent of the total while exports of organic chemicals, which incorporates a lot of the raw material that go into making pharmaceutical products, accounted for €31 billion or 19 per cent.

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 ramped up production to meet soaring demand for medicines and products connected with the treatment of Covid-19.

Approximately €50 billion, almost one-third of Irish exports last year, went to the US, making it the State’s largest single export market.

The five next largest export destinations were Belgium, which accounted for €17.9 billion followed by Germany (€17.6 billion), the UK (€14.6 billion), China (€10.3 billion) and the Netherlands (€8.6 billion).

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

The CSO figures also show the Republic exported €13 billion of food and drink products last year, some €4.8 billion of which went to the UK.

The figures also show the State imported €87 billion of goods in 2020, down 4.6 per cent on 2019.

The single largest component was other transport equipment, which includes aircraft, which accounted for €13.9 billion of imports, down from €21.6 billion the previous year.


The second and third largest components were medical and pharmaceutical products (€8.4 billion) and organic chemicals (€8.1 billion).

The UK was the biggest source of imports in 2020, accounting for €20 billion of the total.

Imports of food and beverages from the UK were €4.3 billion in value while imports of machinery and transport equipment were €4.5 billion.

The State’s biggest trading surplus in 2020 was with the US with the value of exports to the US exceeding imports by €37 billion. There was a surplus of €16 billion with Belgium, and a surplus of more than €10 billion with Germany.

The largest trade deficit in 2020 was with the UK, with €14.6 billion of exports and €20 billion of imports recorded, giving a trading deficit of almost €5.4 billion.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times