Ireland’s Top 10 Exports

Ireland’s Top 10 Exports


Ireland shipped US$135 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2017. That dollar amount reflects a 17% increase from 2013 to 2017 and a 4.4% gain from 2016 to 2017.

Based on estimates from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, Ireland’s exported goods plus services represent 120.7% of total Irish economic output or Gross Domestic Product. The analysis below focuses on exported products only.

From a continental perspective, almost three-fifths (57.1%) of Irish exports by value were delivered to fellow European countries while 28.9% were sold to North American importers. Ireland shipped another 10.5% worth of goods to Asian customers. Smaller percentages went to Africa (1.2%) and Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.8%).

Given Ireland’s population of 5 million people, its total $135 billion in 2017 exports translates to an impressive $26,900 for every resident in the island country.

Ireland’s unemployment rate was 6.1% as of January 2018 down from 7.1% one year earlier, according to Trading Economics.

Ireland’s Top 10 Exports

Top 10

The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Irish global shipments during 2017. 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 most valuable exported product is drugs and medicines used for therapeutic or prophylactic purposes.

  1. Pharmaceuticals: US$38.2 billion (28.3% of total exports)
  2. Organic chemicals: $23.8 billion (17.7%)
  3. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $13.8 billion (10.2%)
  4. Electrical machinery, equipment: $9 billion (6.7%)
  5. Perfumes, cosmetics: $8.4 billion (6.2%)
  6. Machinery including computers: $7.4 billion (5.5%)
  7. Aircraft, spacecraft: $4.8 billion (3.5%)
  8. Other chemical goods: $3.7 billion (2.8%)
  9. Meat: $3.5 billion (2.6%)
  10. Dairy, eggs, honey: $2.7 billion (2%)

Ireland’s top 10 exports accounted for 85.4% of the overall value of its global shipments.

Dairy, eggs and honey was the fastest-growing among Ireland’s top 10 export categories, up 40.1% in value from 2016 to 2017.

In second place for improving export sales were pharmaceuticals which gained 20.1%.

Ireland’s deliveries of aircraft and spacecraft posted the third-fastest acceleration in value (up 16.4%), followed by exported meat (up 9.3%).

Leading the decliners were organic chemicals via a -14% setback year over year, trailed by the -8% fall for exported electrical machinery and equipment.


Overall, Ireland posted a $50.7 billion trade surplus during 2017, down by -3.1% from a $52.3 billion surplus in 2017.

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.

  1. Pharmaceuticals: US$28 billion (Up by 8.5% since 2016)
  2. Organic chemicals: $19.7 billion (Down by -11.2%)
  3. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $11.2 billion (Up by 5.7%)
  4. Perfumes, cosmetics: $7.1 billion (Down by -4%)
  5. Electrical machinery, equipment: $4 billion (Down by -16.8%)
  6. Meat: $2.8 billion (Up by 11.7%)
  7. Other chemical goods: $2.8 billion (Up by 6.7%)
  8. Dairy, eggs, honey: $1.9 billion (Up by 45.4%)
  9. Cereal/milk preparations: $1.7 billion (Up by 7%)
  10. Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $530.3 million (Up by 14.9%)

Ireland has highly positive net exports in the international trade of pharmaceuticals, a relatively recession-proof industry albeit it can be subject to severe regular and product development cycles. The above 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$9.9 billion (Up by 3.7% since 2016)
  2. Mineral fuels including oil: -$3.8 billion (Up by 12.5%)
  3. Vehicles: -$3.8 billion (Down by -5.3%)
  4. Plastics, plastic articles: -$1.3 billion (Up by 24.5%)
  5. Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$877.7 million (Up by 7.3%)
  6. Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$805.2 million (Up by 2.4%)
  7. Paper, paper items: -$803.4 million (Up by 4.1%)
  8. Articles of iron or steel: -$570.8 million (Up by 17.3%)
  9. Machinery including computers: -$558.9 million (Up by 200.7%)
  10. Food industry waste, animal fodder: -$512.6 million (Up by 1.4%)

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 Global 2000 rankings. The following selected corporations are examples of world-leading Irish companies:

  • Accenture (computer services)
  • Actavis (pharmaceuticals)
  • Covidien (medical equipment, supplies)
  • CRH (construction materials)
  • Ingersoll-Rand (conglomerates)
  • Kerry Group (food processing)
  • Perrigo (pharmaceuticals)
  • Seagate Technology (computer storage devices)
  • Shire (pharmaceuticals)
  • 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, 2018

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on February 18, 2018

Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on February 18, 2018

Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on February 18, 2018

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