Ireland reports record-breaking exports even as Brexit hits trade with Britain – dpa international


Socially-distant queue to enter a shop in Sligo in the northwest of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

Socially-distant queue to enter a shop in Sligo in the northwest of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s goods exports were worth an unprecedented 160.8 billion euros (196 billion US dollars) last year, a new record underpinned by surging sales of medical and pharmaceutical products during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Estimates published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed “medical and pharmaceutical products making up 39 per cent of 2020 goods exports, a value increase of 25 per cent on 2019.”

Exports to the 26 other member states of the European Union accounted for 40 per cent the 2020 total, the CSO said, an increase of 13 per cent on 2019. Belgium and Germany were Ireland’s two biggest markets in the EU.

Exports to Britain, Ireland’s nearest neighbour, fell by 9 per cent during 2020 and made up 8 per cent of the year’s overall amount.

After Britain left the EU in early 2020, an increasing proportion of Ireland’s exports to the continent ended up being shipped directly rather than transiting Britain, withsome ferry companies in some cases doubling cargo sailings from Ireland to France.

Trade across the Irish Sea could shrink again this year due to an increase in paperwork and confusion among businesses after the EU and Britain agreed deal on their post-Brexit relationship in December.

Ireland has a huge trade deficit with Britain, which in 2020 was the source of 21 per cent of Irish imports.

The US was Ireland’s biggest export destination with 31 per cent of the total. American businesses have invested heavily in Ireland in recent decades, in sectors that have thrived during the pandemic, such as IT and pharmaceuticals.

Ireland’s other main export sectors shrank, however, as overseas demand contracted due to restrictions.

Exports of food and live animals were down 2 per cent, while manufacturing, machinery and transport equipment all contracted by around 8 per cent.

The divergence is likely down to what the state-funded Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) previously described as “a concentration of Irish exports in lockdown-resistant sectors.”

Domestic-focused sectors of Ireland’s economy contracted last year as many businesses were forced to close for several months, driving unemployment to record levels.

Ireland’s exports shrank 14 per cent month-on-month in December, but were up slightly compared to December 2019.

The value of Ireland’s services trade usually far exceeds goods trade. 2019 services exports were worth over 220 billion euros. 2020 figures are likely to show a narrowing, however, with services such as tourism hammered by pandemic restrictions.

Global trade estimates published last week by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development said that while goods trade grew throughout the second half of 2020, services trade continued “to lag substantially” due to “continued disruptions” in travel.

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