Ireland’s Top 10 Exports

Ireland’s Top 10 Exports


Ireland shipped US$128.1 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2016, up by 9.6% since 2009 when the Great Recession kicked in and up by 2.8% from 2015 to 2016.

Ireland’s top 10 exports accounted for 86.7% of the overall value of its global shipments.

Based on statistics from the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook Database, Ireland’s total Gross Domestic Product amounted to $324.3 billion as of November 2016. Therefore, exports accounted for 39.5% of total Irish economic output.

From a continental perspective, 56.8% of Irish exports by value are delivered to other European countries while 27.9% are sold to North American importers. Ireland ships another 11.5% to Asian customers while 1.1% goes to customers in Africa.

Given Ireland’s population of 5 million people, its total $128.1 billion in 2016 exports translates to a formidable $25,900 for every resident in that country.

Ireland’s unemployment rate was 7.1% as of January 2017 according to Trading Economics compared to 8.9% one year earlier.

Ireland’s Top 10 Exports

Top 10

The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Irish global shipments during 2016. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Ireland. At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, Ireland’s number one exported product is drugs and medicines used for therapeutic or prophylactic purposes.

  1. Pharmaceuticals: US$31.8 billion (24.9% of total exports)
  2. Organic chemicals: $27.6 billion (21.5%)
  3. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $13.1 billion (10.3%)
  4. Electrical machinery, equipment: $9.8 billion (7.6%)
  5. Perfumes, cosmetics: $8.6 billion (6.7%)
  6. Machinery including computers: $7.2 billion (5.6%)
  7. Aircraft, spacecraft: $3.8 billion (2.9%)
  8. Other chemical goods: $3.4 billion (2.6%)
  9. Meat: $3.2 billion (2.5%)
  10. Cereal/milk preparations: $2.5 billion (2%)

Aircraft and spacecraft were the fastest-growing among Ireland’s top 10 export categories, up 290.4% in value for the 7-year period starting in 2009.

In second place for improving export sales were cereal and milk preparations which gained 75.2%.

Irish optical, technical and medical equipment posted the third-fastest acceleration in value up 36.4%, followed by exported meat up 31.8%.

Only two export product categories declined, namely machinery including computers which was down by -37.6% and miscellaneous chemicals with a -20.5% setback.


The following types of Irish product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports. In a nutshell, net exports is the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.

Overall, Ireland posted a $52.7 billion trade surplus during 2016, up by 12.4% from a $46.9 billion surplus during 2015.

  1. Pharmaceuticals: US$25.8 billion (Up by 1.4% since 2009)
  2. Organic chemicals: $22.4 billion (Up by 0.4%)
  3. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $10.6 billion (Up by 43.2%)
  4. Perfumes, cosmetics: $7.4 billion (Up by 20.1%)
  5. Electrical machinery, equipment: $4.8 billion (Up by 118.9%)
  6. Other chemical goods: $2.6 billion (Down by -30.8%)
  7. Meat: $2.5 billion (Up by 36.5%)
  8. Cereal/milk preparations: $1.6 billion (Up by 143.6%)
  9. Dairy, eggs, honey: $1.3 billion (Up by 22.4%)
  10. Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $436.4 million (Up by 1.9%)

Ireland has highly positive net exports in the international trade of pharmaceuticals, a relatively recession-proof industries. In turn, these cashflows indicate Ireland’s strong competitive advantages under the global pharmaceuticals product category.


Below are exports from Ireland that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Ireland’s goods trail Irish importer spending on foreign products.

  1. Aircraft, spacecraft: -US$9.2 billion (Up by 114.4% since 2009)
  2. Vehicles : -$3.9 billion (Up by 311.5%)
  3. Mineral fuels including oil: -$3.3 billion (Down by -39.6%)
  4. Plastics, plastic articles: -$1.1 billion (Up by 8.3%)
  5. Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$817.1 million (Down by -19.6%)
  6. Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$781.8 million (Down by -17.9%)
  7. Paper, paper items: -$766.6 million (Down by -7.7%)
  8. Articles of iron or steel: -$530 million (Up by 5.5%)
  9. Food industry waste, animal fodder: -$505.4 million (Up by 17.8%)
  10. Fruits, nuts: -$421.5 million (Up by 40.2%)

Ireland has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for aircraft and spacecraft.

These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Ireland’s competitive disadvantages in the aeronautical products market, but also represent key opportunities for Ireland to improve its position in the global economy through focused technological innovations.


Irish Export Companies

Ireland placed 19 companies on the Forbes 2015 Global 2000 rankings. The following selected corporations are examples of world-leading Irish companies:

  • Accenture (computer services)
  • Covidien (medical equipment, supplies)
  • Seagate Technology (computer storage devices)
  • Ingersoll-Rand (conglomerates)
  • CRH (construction materials)
  • Actavis (pharmaceuticals)
  • Shire (pharmaceuticals)
  • Perrigo (pharmaceuticals)
  • Kerry Group (food processing)
  • Smurfit Kappa Group (paper products)

According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following companies are examples of entrepreneurial Irish exporters:

  • Armstrong Medical (mercury, inorganic bases, calcium)
  • Bolger Engineering (iron/non-alloy steel products, electric motor parts, generators)
  • Carlow Brewing (malt beer, acyclic polyhydric alcohols)
  • Tratech Ireland (machine tool parts and accessories)

Ireland’s capital city is Dublin.

Please note that the results listed above are at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level.

See also Ireland’s Top 10 Major Export Companies, Ireland’s Top 10 Imports and Ireland’s Top Trading Partners

Research Sources:
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on February 18, 2017

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on February 18, 2017

Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on February 18, 2017

Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on February 18, 2017

Wikipedia, List of Companies of Ireland. Accessed on February 24, 2016

Forbes 2015 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on February 24, 2016