Irish exporters hope for pick-up in 2021 after pandemic limited growth to 0.3% in 2020

Exports by Irish companies to the UK fell by 3.8% to €7.5bn

Leo Varadkar, the Tánaiste and Minister for Business, hopes to lead a trade mission to the US at the end of September as international travel restrictions are eased, as the State looks to fire up its export performance in 2021.

Figures released by Enterprise Ireland (EI) show overall exports by indigenous Irish companies rose 0.3 per cent last year to just under €25.5 billion. The figures, however, mask significant variations in the performance of exports to different regions around the globe.

Exports to the State’s largest export market, the UK, fell 3.8 per cent to €7.5 billion due to the twin impact of the pandemic and trade restrictions due to Brexit. The UK accounts for 29 per cent of all exports by EI- affiliated companies.

Euro zone exports, which account for 23 per cent of the total, rose by 1.6 per cent to €5.85 billion, with a particularly strong performance in northern European markets such as the Netherlands. Indigenous export sales to the US and Asia-Pacific also “held up well” in the pandemic, EI said, falling by about 1 per cent in each case to €4.46 billion and €2.14 billion respectively.


However, exports to the Middle East, Africa and India, although barely a 5 per cent slice of the total, fell by 7 per cent to €1.15 billion.

Leo Clancy, EI's new chief executive, said food exports to the UK had held up reasonably well following Brexit and were not "notable" among the overall 3.8 per cent decline. Construction and engineering exports to the UK had fallen "quite significantly", he said, in addition to travel software exports and financial services.

Speaking alongside the Tánaiste at an EI event at the Dublin headquarters of agrichemicals company Life Scientific, Mr Clancy said that any future additional checks on Irish exports into the UK as Brexit rules are further implemented would be a "big concern".

Construction exports

On a sectoral basis, construction exports grew overall by 12 per cent to more than €2.5 billion, consumer retail exports were up 6.1 per cent to €989 million and food exports grew by 0.6 per cent to near €12.2 billion. Exports of digital products fell 5 per cent to €1.96 billion, largely due to a steep falloff in sales of technology to the pandemic-hit aviation sector, where Ireland is a global leader.

Looking ahead to the rest of this year, EI said its research shows that Irish exporters are, at this stage, forecasting “a boost of up to 8 per cent” in sales in 2021. Mr Clancy said there was a “positive outlook for economic recovery” across most of the State’s important export markets.

Mr Varadkar said Irish exporters had, overall, performed well in 2020 in the face of “profound headwinds” due to the pandemic and Brexit.

He said his proposed US trip, if it goes ahead, would take in trade talks in Washington and a trade mission the east coast before moving on to the west coast, an important region for the technology industry.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times