Ireland exported US$165.1 billion worth of goods around the world in 2018. That dollar amount reflects a 34.2% increase since 2014 and a 19.6% gain from 2017 to 2018.
Geographically the Republic of Ireland is the second-largest island of the British Isles, the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island in the world.
Nearly three-fifths (55.1%) of Irish exports by value were delivered to fellow European countries while 29.8% were sold to North American importers. Ireland shipped another 10.3% worth of goods to Asian customers.
Smaller percentages went to Africa (1%) and Latin America (0.7%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean, and Oceania (0.7%) led by Australia.
Ireland’s Top Trading Partners
Below is a list showcasing 15 of Ireland’s top trading partners in terms of Irish export sales. That is, countries that imported the most Irish shipments by dollar value during 2018. Also shown is each import country’s percentage of total Irish exports.
- United States: US$46 billion (27.9% of total Irish exports)
- Belgium: $21.7 billion (13.2%)
- United Kingdom: $18.7 billion (11.4%)
- Germany: $12.2 billion (7.4%)
- Netherlands: $9 billion (5.4%)
- Switzerland: $7.7 billion (4.6%)
- France: $6.2 billion (3.8%)
- China: $5.4 billion (3.3%)
- Japan: $4.6 billion (2.8%)
- Italy: $4.3 billion (2.6%)
- Spain: $3 billion (1.8%)
- Mexico: $1.7 billion (1%)
- Canada: $1.6 billion (1%)
- Poland: $1.4 billion (0.8%)
- Sweden: $1.1 billion (0.7%)
Almost nine-tenths (87.6%) of Irish exports in 2018 were delivered to the above 15 trade partners.
Poland was the only top importers that decreased its purchases from Ireland from 2017 to 2018, down in value by -9.2%. Among the other 14 countries, gains ranged from a minimum of 2.3% for Spain up to 59.7% for Japan.
As defined by Investopedia, a country whose total value of all imported goods is higher than its value of all exports is said to have a negative trade balance or deficit.
It would be unrealistic for any exporting nation to expect across-the-board positive trade balances with all its importing partners. Similarly, that export country doesn’t necessarily post a negative trade balance with each individual partner with which it exchanges exports and imports.
In 2018, Ireland incurred the highest trade deficits with the following countries:
- United Kingdom: -US$8.8 billion (country-specific trade deficit in 2018)
- France: -$6.5 billion
- Norway: -$725.8 million
- Germany: -$693.6 million
- Kuwait: -$214.2 million
- Czech Republic: -$170 million
- India: -$159.6 million
- Guinea: -$142.1 million
- Thailand: -$116.8 million
- Bangladesh: -$100.1 million
Among Ireland’s trading partners that cause the greatest negative trade balances, Irish deficits with Czech Republic (up 434.4%), United Kingdom (up 171.2%) and France (up 11.9%) grew at the fastest percentage pace from 2017 to 2018. In addition, Ireland transitioned from a $3.6 billion surplus with Germany in 2017 to -$693.6 million in red ink one year later. Similarly, Ireland’s $95.7 million surplus with Kuwait in 2017 became a -$214.2 million deficit at Ireland’s expense in 2018.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Ireland’s competitive disadvantages with the above countries, but also represent key opportunities for Ireland to develop country-specific strategies to strengthen its overall position in international trade.
Ireland posted an overall $59.2 billion trade surplus during 2018, up by 20.2% from a $49.2 billion in black ink one year earlier.
Based on Investopedia’s definition of net importer, a country whose total value of all imported goods is lower than its value of all exports is said to have a positive trade balance or surplus.
In 2018, Ireland incurred the highest trade surpluses with the following countries:
- United States: US$27.7 billion (country-specific trade surplus in 2018)
- Belgium: $19.4 billion
- Switzerland: $6.7 billion
- Netherlands: $4.6 billion
- Japan: $3.6 billion
- Italy: $2.6 billion
- Spain: $1.4 billion
- Mexico: $1.3 billion
- China: $1.2 billion
- Canada: $978.3 million
Among Ireland’s trading partners that generate the greatest positive trade balances, Irish surpluses with Japan (up 130.4%), Italy (up 122.9%) and Canada (up 78%) grew at the fastest percentage pace from 2017 to 2018. Ireland’s trade balance with China went from a -$41.5 million deficit in 2017 to a $1.2 billion surplus in the latest reporting period.
These positive cashflow streams clearly indicate Ireland’s competitive advantages with the above countries, but also represent key opportunities for Ireland to develop country-specific strategies to optimize its overall position in international trade.
Major Irish Companies Servicing Trading Partners
Ireland placed 19 companies on the Forbes Global 2000 rankings. Below is a sample of the major Irish companies that Forbes included:
- 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)
See also Ireland’s Top 10 Imports, Ireland’s Top 10 Major Export Companies and Ireland’s Top 10 Exports
The World Factbook, Field Listing: Imports – Commodities, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on February 22, 2019
Trade Map, International Trade Centre, www.intracen.org/marketanalysis. Accessed on February 22, 2019
Investopedia, Net Importer Definition. Accessed on February 22, 2019
Forbes 2015 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on February 22, 2019
Zepol’scompany summary highlights by country. Accessed on February 22, 2019