A distinct entity from Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland shipped US$169.7 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects a 36% increase since 2015 and a 1.6% gain from 2018 to 2019.
Ireland’s exported goods totaled $147.4 billion during the first 10 months of 2020. Assuming an annualized $176.9 billion in exports for all 2020 compared to an adjusted $170.7 billion for 2019, Ireland is on track for an estimated 3.6% increase in value for its shipments from 2019 to 2020.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2019, the euro appreciated by 0.9% against the US dollar since 2015 but declined by -5.5% from 2018 to 2019. The weaker EU currency in 2019 made Ireland’s exports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively less expensive for international buyers compared to 2018.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 85.5% of products exported from Ireland were bought by importers in: United States (30.8% of the global total), Belgium (10.4%), United Kingdom (10.3%), Germany (8.8%), Netherlands (5.7%), China (5.4%), Switzerland (3.7%), France (3.5%), Italy (2.5%), Japan (1.8%), Spain (1.5%) and Mexico (1%).
From a continental perspective, 51.6% of Ireland exports by value were delivered to fellow European countries while 32.8% were sold to North American importers. Ireland shipped another 11.4% worth of goods to Asia. Smaller percentages went to Africa (1.1%), Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.6%) then Oceania led by Australia (0.6%).
Given Ireland’s population of 5 million people, its total $169.7 billion in 2019 exported goods translates to an impressive $34,300 for every resident in the island country.
Ireland’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Irish global shipments during 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Ireland.
- Pharmaceuticals: US$53.5 billion (31.5% of total exports)
- Organic chemicals: $35.6 billion (21%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $15.2 billion (9%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $11.7 billion (6.9%)
- Machinery including computers: $9.8 billion (5.7%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: $8.8 billion (5.2%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $4.6 billion (2.7%)
- Other chemical goods: $4.1 billion (2.4%)
- Meat: $3.5 billion (2.1%)
- Dairy, eggs, honey: $3.4 billion (2%)
Ireland’s top 10 exports accounted for 88.5% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Electrical machinery and equipment represent the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 32.8% from 2018 to 2019. In second place for improving export sales was the dairy, eggs and honey category via a 10.6% gain. Ireland’s shipments of organic chemicals posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 7.4%.
The leading decliner among Ireland’s top 10 export categories was aircraft and spacecraft thanks to a -20.5% dip year over year.
Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more granular view of exported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the section Searchable List of Ireland’s Most Valuable Export Products further down below.
Ireland posted an overall $71.6 billion trade surplus during 2019, up by 19.1% from a $60.1 billion in black ink one year earlier.
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 represent 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.
- Pharmaceuticals: US$45.3 billion (Up by 11.3% since 2018)
- Organic chemicals: $29.9 billion (Up by 5.1%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $12.1 billion (Down by -3.2%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: $7.6 billion (Down by -3.5%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $5.9 billion (Up by 99.8%)
- Other chemical goods: $3.1 billion (Down by -3%)
- Meat: $2.8 billion (Down by -4.2%)
- Dairy, eggs, honey: $2.5 billion (Up by 16.1%)
- Cereal/milk preparations: $1.3 billion (Down by -7.3%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $790.2 million (Up by 20.8%)
Ireland has highly positive net exports in the international trade of pharmaceuticals, a relatively recession-proof industry albeit it can be subject to 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.
- Aircraft, spacecraft: -US$16.4 billion (Down by -11.7% since 2018)
- Mineral fuels including oil: -$5 billion (Down by -12.6%)
- Vehicles: -$3.8 billion (Down by -6.8%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$1.4 billion (Up by 2.3%)
- Machinery including computers: -$1.2 billion (Down by -24.1%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$1 billion (Up by 2.7%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$898.1 million (Up by 0.8%)
- Paper, paper items: -$883 million (Down by -0.9%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$811.7 million (Up by 14.1%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting , signs, prefab buildings: -$624.9 million (Up by 5.6%)
Ireland has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for aircraft and spacecraft.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Ireland’s competitive disadvantages in the aeronautical products market, but also represent key opportunities for Ireland to improve its position in the global economy through focused technological innovations.
Irish Export Companies
Ireland placed 19 companies on the Forbes Global 2000 rankings. The following selected corporations are examples of world-leading Irish companies.
- Accenture (computer services)
- Actavis (pharmaceuticals)
- Covidien (medical equipment, supplies)
- CRH (construction materials)
- Ingersoll-Rand (conglomerates)
- Kerry Group (food processing)
- Perrigo (pharmaceuticals)
- Seagate Technology (computer storage devices)
- Shire (pharmaceuticals)
- Smurfit Kappa Group (paper products)
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following companies are examples of entrepreneurial Irish exporters.
- Armstrong Medical (mercury, inorganic bases, calcium)
- Bolger Engineering (iron/non-alloy steel products, electric motor parts, generators)
- Carlow Brewing (malt beer, acyclic polyhydric alcohols)
- Tratech Ireland (machine tool parts and accessories)
Searchable List of Ireland’s Most Valuable Export Products
The following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from Ireland during 2019. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2018.
|Rank||Irish Export Product||2019 Value (US$)||Change|
|1||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$34,572,554,000||+12.9%|
|2||Heterocyclics, nucleic acids||$22,364,492,000||+2.7%|
|3||Medication mixes in dosage||$17,677,118,000||-17.8%|
|4||Scents used for beverage or industrial manufacturing||$8,161,023,000||-4.8%|
|6||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$6,327,149,000||+5.6%|
|11||Computers, optical readers||$4,105,311,000||+14.4%|
|12||Chemical industry products/residuals||$2,443,669,000||-7%|
|13||Flour/meal/starch/malt extract food preparations||$1,873,255,000||-7.8%|
|14||Fresh or chilled beef||$1,810,445,000||-11.1%|
|15||Hormones, miscellaneous steroids||$1,666,821,000||+56.7%|
|16||Other diagnostic/lab reagents||$1,499,523,000||+6.1%|
|17||Optical fiber cables, sheets, plates||$1,388,962,000||-7.5%|
|18||Computer parts, accessories||$1,347,093,000||+12.3%|
|19||Alcohol (including spirits, liqueurs)||$1,322,229,000||+10.4%|
|20||Butter, other milk fats or oils||$1,276,517,000||-1.1%|
|22||Phone system devices||$1,157,194,000||+5.4%|
|23||Unrecorded sound media||$945,965,000||-0.8%|
|24||Miscellaneous meat (preserved/prepared)||$777,064,000||-15%|
|25||Sutures, special pharmaceutical goods||$768,715,000||-7.4%|
|26||Processed petroleum oils||$691,647,000||-18.3%|
|31||Concentrated/sweetened milk, cream||$570,203,000||+28.4%|
|33||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$515,238,000||-22.5%|
|35||Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries||$466,463,000||+16%|
|36||Other measuring/testing machines||$363,077,000||-18.4%|
|37||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$356,153,000||+1.9%|
|40||Sheep or goat meat||$340,441,000||-5.5%|
|41||Oral/dental hygiene preparations||$333,259,000||+11.6%|
|42||Casein derivatives, glues||$332,229,000||+14.2%|
|44||Chocolate, other cocoa preparations||$327,530,000||-1.3%|
|45||Miscellaneous animal feed preparations||$315,591,000||-0.9%|
|46||TV receiver/transmit/digital cameras||$314,599,000||-6.5%|
|47||Live horses, mules||$298,635,000||+0.1%|
|49||Other food preparations||$295,202,000||+18.7%|
|50||Red meat offal||$288,500,000||-12.5%|
|51||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$267,499,000||-4.4%|
|55||Electrical converters/power units||$232,513,000||-3.2%|
|56||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$224,549,000||-21.6%|
|58||Medication mixes not in dosage||$215,321,000||+8.7%|
|61||Interchangeable hand/machine tools||$200,842,000||-20.1%|
|62||Electric sound/visual signal bells or alarms||$197,465,000||-11.5%|
|63||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$196,280,000||-11.3%|
|64||Miscellaneous plastic items||$193,707,000||-6.2%|
|67||Ligneous fiberboard including wood||$181,319,000||-8.3%|
|68||Other organo-inorganic compounds||$178,481,000||-26.7%|
|69||Sweetening matter including whey||$177,241,000||+28.8%|
|70||Liquid pumps and elevators||$175,182,000||-11.4%|
|71||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$172,818,000||-21.7%|
|72||Zinc ores, concentrates||$172,245,000||-38.4%|
|73||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$166,297,000||-10.3%|
|77||Whole fish (frozen)||$161,598,000||-4%|
|78||Whole fish (fresh)||$160,851,000||+9%|
|79||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$159,416,000||+11.2%|
|84||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$150,543,000||+7.5%|
|86||Crustaceans (including lobsters)||$147,881,000||-6.5%|
|87||Electric water heaters, hair dryers||$147,808,000||+23%|
|90||Iron or steel scrap||$135,136,000||-20%|
|91||Precious metal compounds||$132,368,000||+58.3%|
|93||Fruit and vegetable juices||$131,695,000||+6.4%|
|94||Sugar confectionery (no cocoa)||$128,866,000||-7%|
|95||Live bovine cattle||$127,256,000||+9.2%|
|96||Uncarded synthetic staple fibers||$126,325,000||-6.4%|
|97||Miscellaneous engines, motors||$125,816,000||-5.5%|
|98||Machinery for making semi-conductors||$123,474,000||+6.2%|
|99||Plastic builders' items||$122,284,000||+0.9%|
|100||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$121,014,000||+4.1%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$158.4 billion or 93.3% by value for all products exported from Ireland during 2019.
In macroeconomic terms, Ireland’s total exported goods represent 41.1% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($412.8 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 41.1% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2019 compares to 43.3% in 2018. This suggests a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Ireland’s total economic performance, albeit based on a very short timeframe.
Ireland’s Covid-19 adjusted unemployment rate was 20.2% for October 2020, up from an average 4.8% according to official Central Statistics Office metrics as reported by The Irish Times.
Ireland’s capital city is Dublin.
See also Ireland’s Top 10 Major Export Companies, Ireland’s Top 10 Imports and Ireland’s Top Trading Partners
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Forbes 2015 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on January 2, 2021
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International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on January 2, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on January 2, 2021
Richest Country Reports, Key Statistics Powering Global Wealth. Accessed on January 2, 2021
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Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on January 2, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Ireland. Accessed on January 2, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on January 2, 2021