Based on the average exchange rate for 2021, the euro appreciated by 5% against the US dollar since 2017 and strengthened by 3.9% from 2020 to 2021. The stronger European Union currency in 2021 made Ireland’s exports paid for in weaker US dollars relatively more expensive for international buyers.
Ireland’s biggest export products by value in 2021 were blood fractions including antisera, medication mixes in dosage, organic chemicals specifically heterocyclics, electronic integrated circuits or microassemblies, then electro-medical equipment such as xrays. In aggregate, those major exports accounted for 58.3% of overall exports sales from Ireland. That percentage–and the products themselves–suggest a relatively concentrated range of exported goods.
Ireland places among world-leaders for exporting blood fractions including antisera, while ranking among the top exporters for drugs and medicines in general. The European nation is also a major competitor selling medical, surgical or veterinarian instruments on international markets.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 86.1% of products exported from Ireland were bought by importers in: the United States of America (30.8% of the global total), United Kingdom (11.1%), Germany (11%), Belgium (8.4%), mainland China (6.8%), Netherlands (5.8%), France (3.4%), Italy (2.7%), Switzerland (1.8%), Japan (1.7%), Spain (1.4%) and Mexico (1.1%).
From a continental perspective, 52.1% of Ireland exports by value were delivered to fellow European countries while 32.9% were sold to importers in North America. Ireland shipped another 12.7% worth of goods to Asia.
Smaller percentages went to Africa (1%), Latin America (0.6%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean, then Oceania (0.58%) led by Australia and New Zealand.
Given Ireland’s population of 5.04 million people, its total $190.2 billion in 2021 exported goods translates to an impressive $37,700 for every resident in the island country. That per-capita amount compares to an average $35,700 in 2020.
Ireland’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Irish global shipments during 2021. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Ireland.
- Pharmaceuticals: US$67.5 billion (35.5% of total exports)
- Organic chemicals: $37.3 billion (19.6%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $16.9 billion (8.9%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $15.4 billion (8.1%)
- Machinery including computers: $9.6 billion (5%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: $5.4 billion (2.9%)
- Dairy, eggs, honey: $3.91 billion (2.1%)
- Other chemical goods: $3.9 billion (2.1%)
- Meat: $3.86 billion (2%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $3.4 billion (1.8%)
Ireland’s top 10 exports accounted for 87.9% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Optical, technical and medical apparatus was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 22.9% from 2020 to 2021.
In second place for improving export sales was electrical machinery and equipment thanks to its 21.8% gain.
Ireland’s shipments of miscellaneous chemical goods posted the third-fastest gain in value, up by 18.1% year over year.
The leading decliner among Ireland’s top 10 export categories was perfumes and cosmetics which fell -37.9%.
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.
Products Generating the Greatest Trade Surpluses for Ireland
Ireland posted an overall $71.5 billion trade surplus during 2021, down by -16.6% from $85.7 billion in black ink one year earlier in 2020.
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$56.2 billion (Down by -0.2% since 2020)
- Organic chemicals: $25.1 billion (Down by -19.5%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $12.9 billion (Up by 30.3%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $4.1 billion (Down by -31.4%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: $4 billion (Down by -48%)
- Meat: $3.2 billion (Up by 7.3%)
- Dairy, eggs, honey: $3.1 billion (Up by 27.3%)
- Other chemical goods: $2.6 billion (Up by 17.2%)
- Cereal/milk preparations: $1.2 billion (Down by -16.4%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $781.3 million (Up by 73.8%)
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.
Products Causing the Greatest Trade Deficits for Ireland
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$13.2 billion (Up by 15.2% since 2020)
- Mineral fuels including oil: -$6 billion (Up by 95.7%)
- Vehicles: -$4.5 billion (Up by 33%)
- Machinery including computers: -$3.2 billion (Up by 6%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$1.7 billion (Up by 16.5%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$1.3 billion (Up by 32.8%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$1.1 billion (Up by 80.3%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$1.1 billion (Up by 2.2%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefabricated buildings: -$1 billion (Up by 71.6%)
- Paper, paper items: -$851.9 million (Up by 2.2%)
Ireland has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for aircraft and spacecraft.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Ireland’s competitive disadvantages in the aeronautical products market, but also represent key opportunities for Ireland to improve its position in the global economy through focused technological innovations.
Major Irish Export Companies
Ireland placed 19 companies on the Forbes Global 2000 rankings. The following selected corporations are examples of world-leading Irish companies.
- Accenture (computer services)
- Actavis (pharmaceuticals)
- Covidien (medical equipment, supplies)
- CRH (construction materials)
- Ingersoll-Rand (conglomerates)
- Kerry Group (food processing)
- Perrigo (pharmaceuticals)
- Seagate Technology (computer storage devices)
- Shire (pharmaceuticals)
- Smurfit Kappa Group (paper products)
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following companies are examples of entrepreneurial Irish exporters.
- Armstrong Medical (mercury, inorganic bases, calcium)
- Bolger Engineering (iron/non-alloy steel products, electric motor parts, generators)
- Carlow Brewing (malt beer, acyclic polyhydric alcohols)
- Tratech Ireland (machine tool parts and accessories)
Searchable List of Ireland’s Most Valuable Export Products
The following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from Ireland during 2021. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2020.
|Rank||Irish Export Product||2021 Value (US$)||YOY|
|1||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$43,737,221,000||+5%|
|2||Medication mixes in dosage||$22,579,275,000||+1.4%|
|3||Heterocyclics, nucleic acids||$18,644,123,000||-8.5%|
|5||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$7,561,949,000||+33.5%|
|7||Hormones, miscellaneous steroids||$6,770,546,000||+34.6%|
|9||Scents for beverage/industrial manufacturing||$4,856,575,000||-41.3%|
|12||Computers, optical readers||$3,149,617,000||-24.4%|
|13||Chemical industry products/residuals||$2,727,219,000||+14.6%|
|14||Fresh or chilled beef||$1,923,880,000||+6.9%|
|16||Flour/meal/starch/malt extract food preparations||$1,576,797,000||-20.5%|
|17||Optical fiber cables, sheets, plates||$1,504,505,000||+14.4%|
|18||Alcohol (including spirits, liqueurs)||$1,491,036,000||+27.8%|
|21||Computer parts, accessories||$1,215,134,000||+13.9%|
|23||Unrecorded sound media||$1,072,531,000||-4.3%|
|24||Phone devices including smartphones||$834,437,000||-19.3%|
|25||Other diagnostic/lab reagents||$829,808,000||+20.6%|
|26||Sutures, special pharmaceutical goods||$775,884,000||+18.7%|
|27||Miscellaneous meat (preserved/prepared)||$753,001,000||+8%|
|29||Processed petroleum oils||$697,889,000||+33.8%|
|30||Concentrated/sweetened milk, cream||$665,999,000||+3.8%|
|32||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$559,972,000||+22.9%|
|33||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$557,500,000||+80.7%|
|37||Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries||$519,190,000||+11.3%|
|40||Sheep or goat meat||$437,178,000||+12%|
|41||Other measuring/testing machines||$432,723,000||+15.2%|
|43||Live horses, mules||$389,975,000||+57.8%|
|44||Miscellaneous animal feed preparations||$387,714,000||+14.7%|
|45||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$376,896,000||+5.6%|
|46||Chocolate, other cocoa preparations||$361,623,000||+5.1%|
|47||Other food preparations||$346,664,000||+12.9%|
|48||Oral/dental hygiene preparations||$340,252,000||+18.2%|
|49||Electrical converters/power units||$303,030,000||+26.8%|
|50||Electric sound/visual signal bells or alarms||$292,764,000||+12.9%|
|53||Ligneous fiberboard including wood||$278,746,000||+56.9%|
|55||Miscellaneous plastic items||$271,926,000||+32.5%|
|58||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$242,718,000||+17.9%|
|59||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$241,037,000||+16.7%|
|60||Zinc ores, concentrates||$240,146,000||+29.7%|
|61||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$239,145,000||+74.1%|
|62||TV receiver/transmit/digital cameras||$221,356,000||-5.8%|
|64||Precious metal compounds||$215,679,000||+1.2%|
|65||Iron or steel scrap||$207,547,000||+76.3%|
|67||Not concentrated/unsweetened milk, cream||$205,341,000||+55.3%|
|68||Whole fish (frozen)||$202,756,000||+16.3%|
|69||Interchangeable hand/machine tools||$202,661,000||+32.9%|
|70||Red meat offal||$202,067,000||-29.2%|
|72||Miscellaneous fresh/chilled vegetables||$194,453,000||+36.1%|
|74||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$182,858,000||-31.5%|
|76||Liquid pumps and elevators||$172,616,000||+6%|
|77||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$171,944,000||+26.4%|
|78||Concrete/artificial stone items||$169,874,000||+74.5%|
|82||Plastic builders' items||$160,922,000||+47.8%|
|83||Medication mixes not in dosage||$160,877,000||-79.4%|
|84||Wrist/pocket watches (no precious metal case)||$160,189,000||+60.6%|
|85||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$157,915,000||+3.4%|
|86||Vulcanized rubber items||$156,640,000||+214.7%|
|90||Stoppers, caps, lids||$149,396,000||+12.7%|
|91||Crustaceans (including lobsters)||$148,784,000||+36%|
|92||Uncarded staple fibers||$148,641,000||+31.2%|
|93||Live bovine cattle||$144,214,000||+16.3%|
|95||Whole fish (fresh)||$141,099,000||-7.5%|
|96||Fruit and vegetable juices||$140,982,000||+3.7%|
|97||Miscellaneous engines, motors||$136,079,000||+45.1%|
|98||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$132,097,000||+14.7%|
|99||Dried organs, heparin||$128,824,000||+17.3%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$177.6 billion or 93.4% by value for all products exported from Ireland during 2021.
In macroeconomic terms, Ireland’s total exported goods represent 33.9% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2021 ($561.5 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 33.9% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2021 compares to 39.9% in 2020. Those percentages suggest a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Ireland’s total economic performance, albeit based on a short timeframe.
Ireland’s unemployment rate was 7.76% at October 2021, up from an average 5.833% for 2020 according to the International Monetary Fund.
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 2017 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on March 21, 2022
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on March 21, 2022
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on March 21, 2022
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 21, 2022
Richest Country Reports, Key Statistics Powering Global Wealth. Accessed on March 21, 2022
The Irish Times, Unemployment jumps to over 20% in wake of new restrictions. Accessed on March 21, 2022
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on March 21, 2022
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Ireland. Accessed on March 21, 2022
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on March 21, 2022