Based on the average exchange rate for 2020, the euro appreciated by 3.1% against the US dollar since 2016 and increased by 2% from 2019 to 2020. The stronger EU currency made Ireland’s exports paid for in weaker US dollars relatively more expensive for many international buyers.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 86.3% of products exported from Ireland were bought by importers in: United States (30.1% of the global total), Belgium (11.4%), Germany (11.1%), United Kingdom (9.3%), China (6.3%), Netherlands (5.4%), France (3.2%), Italy (2.9%), Switzerland (2.1%), Japan (1.7%), Spain (1.5%) and Greece (1.1%).
From a continental perspective, 53.2% of Ireland exports by value were delivered to fellow European countries while 32.7% were sold to North American importers. Ireland shipped another 12.1% worth of goods to Asia. Smaller percentages went to Africa (0.9%), Oceania led by Australia (0.6%) then Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (also 0.6%).
Given Ireland’s population of 5 million people, its total $178.7 billion in 2020 exported goods translates to an impressive $35,700 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 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Ireland.
- Pharmaceuticals: US$65.7 billion (36.8% of total exports)
- Organic chemicals: $40.5 billion (22.7%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $13.5 billion (7.6%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $12.7 billion (7.1%)
- Machinery including computers: $9.2 billion (5.1%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: $4.8 billion (2.7%)
- Meat: $3.6 billion (2%)
- Dairy, eggs, honey: $3.3 billion (1.9%)
- Other chemical goods: $3.3 billion (1.9%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $2.8 billion (1.6%)
Ireland’s top 10 exports accounted for 89.2% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Pharmaceuticals represent the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 23.1% since 2019. In second place for improving export sales were organic chemicals which rose 13.7%. Ireland’s shipments of electrical machinery and equipment posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 7.1% year over year.
The leading decliner among Ireland’s top 10 export categories was the perfumes and cosmetics category which fell -45.4%.
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 $80.8 billion trade surplus during 2020, up by 16.6% from $69.3 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$55.5 billion (Up by 21.3% since 2019)
- Organic chemicals: $30.9 billion (Up by 3.2%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $9.8 billion (Down by -17.7%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $6 billion (Up by 13.6%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: $3.7 billion (Down by -50.9%)
- Meat: $3 billion (Up by 5.3%)
- Dairy, eggs, honey: $2.4 billion (Down by -5.1%)
- Other chemical goods: $2.2 billion (Down by -28.8%)
- Cereal/milk preparations: $1.4 billion (Up by 2.6%)
- Modified starches, glues, enzymes: $543.4 million (Up by 22.5%)
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$11.5 billion (Down by -38.6% since 2019)
- Vehicles: -$3.3 billion (Down by -13.5%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: -$3.2 billion (Down by -38.7%)
- Machinery including computers: -$2.8 billion (Up by 138.1%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$1.4 billion (Up by 0.1%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$1.1 billion (Up by 20.1%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$1 billion (Down by -0.01%)
- Paper, paper items: -$832 million (Down by -3.6%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$649.4 million (Down by -18.5%)
- Food industry waste, animal fodder: -$630.7 million (Up by 6.8%)
Ireland has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for aircraft and spacecraft.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Ireland’s competitive disadvantages in the aeronautical products market, but also represent key opportunities for Ireland to improve its position in the global economy through focused technological innovations.
Irish Export Companies
Ireland placed 19 companies on the Forbes Global 2000 rankings. The following selected corporations are examples of world-leading Irish companies.
- Accenture (computer services)
- Actavis (pharmaceuticals)
- Covidien (medical equipment, supplies)
- CRH (construction materials)
- Ingersoll-Rand (conglomerates)
- Kerry Group (food processing)
- Perrigo (pharmaceuticals)
- Seagate Technology (computer storage devices)
- Shire (pharmaceuticals)
- Smurfit Kappa Group (paper products)
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following companies are examples of entrepreneurial Irish exporters.
- Armstrong Medical (mercury, inorganic bases, calcium)
- Bolger Engineering (iron/non-alloy steel products, electric motor parts, generators)
- Carlow Brewing (malt beer, acyclic polyhydric alcohols)
- Tratech Ireland (machine tool parts and accessories)
Searchable List of Ireland’s Most Valuable Export Products
The following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from Ireland during 2020. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2019.
|Rank||Irish Export Product||2020 Value (US$)||Change|
|1||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$41,756,105,000||+21.3%|
|2||Medication mixes in dosage||$22,277,589,000||+25.7%|
|3||Heterocyclics, nucleic acids||$20,390,153,000||-8.8%|
|6||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$5,460,693,000||-16%|
|7||Hormones, miscellaneous steroids||$5,032,704,000||+202.4%|
|9||Scents used for beverage or industrial manufacturing||$4,293,305,000||-47.4%|
|10||Computers, optical readers||$4,108,866,000||-0.3%|
|13||Chemical industry products/residuals||$2,346,913,000||-4.1%|
|14||Flour/meal/starch/malt extract food preparations||$1,961,647,000||+3.5%|
|15||Fresh or chilled beef||$1,790,114,000||-1.1%|
|16||Optical fiber cables, sheets, plates||$1,261,551,000||-13.7%|
|18||Alcohol (including spirits, liqueurs)||$1,156,727,000||-14.7%|
|19||Butter, other milk fats or oils||$1,145,887,000||-10.5%|
|20||Unrecorded sound media||$1,113,471,000||+9.5%|
|21||Computer parts, accessories||$1,052,839,000||-22.5%|
|22||Phone system devices||$1,018,646,000||-13.7%|
|23||Medication mixes not in dosage||$808,737,000||+278.8%|
|26||Other diagnostic/lab reagents||$748,609,000||-50.1%|
|28||Miscellaneous meat (preserved/prepared)||$685,921,000||-11.6%|
|29||Sutures, special pharmaceutical goods||$656,467,000||-14.6%|
|31||Concentrated/sweetened milk, cream||$643,323,000||+12.1%|
|33||Processed petroleum oils||$514,877,000||-34%|
|36||Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries||$468,485,000||-0.02%|
|37||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$459,989,000||-10.8%|
|38||Casein derivatives, glues||$428,774,000||+29%|
|41||Sheep or goat meat||$389,609,000||+14.4%|
|42||Other measuring/testing machines||$376,096,000||+3.8%|
|43||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$356,220,000||-0.6%|
|44||Chocolate, other cocoa preparations||$338,127,000||+2.4%|
|45||Miscellaneous animal feed preparations||$337,303,000||+6.3%|
|46||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$303,274,000||+13.6%|
|47||Other food preparations||$293,359,000||-1.2%|
|49||Oral/dental hygiene preparations||$286,713,000||-13.9%|
|50||Red meat offal||$284,674,000||-1.3%|
|51||Miscellaneous iron or steel items||$263,228,000||+468.1%|
|53||Electric sound/visual signal bells or alarms||$259,834,000||+31.1%|
|55||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$255,257,000||+6.9%|
|56||Live horses, mules||$252,024,000||-15.8%|
|57||TV receiver/transmit/digital cameras||$235,537,000||-25.4%|
|58||Electrical converters/power units||$231,254,000||-3.3%|
|60||Precious metal compounds||$213,535,000||+60.7%|
|62||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$205,788,000||+5.4%|
|63||Miscellaneous plastic items||$202,040,000||+3.5%|
|64||Zinc ores, concentrates||$183,792,000||+7%|
|66||Whey, other sweetening materials||$181,180,000||+2.2%|
|67||Ligneous fiberboard including wood||$178,325,000||-1.7%|
|68||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$177,877,000||-12%|
|70||Whole fish (frozen)||$172,269,000||+7.6%|
|76||Liquid pumps and elevators||$157,125,000||-10.7%|
|77||Other organo-inorganic compounds||$155,319,000||-2.4%|
|78||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$152,529,000||+1.1%|
|79||Interchangeable hand/machine tools||$150,024,000||-25.2%|
|81||Whole fish (fresh)||$149,251,000||-5.2%|
|83||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$136,127,000||-14.3%|
|84||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$135,807,000||-18%|
|85||Fruit and vegetable juices||$135,147,000||+2.6%|
|86||Stoppers, lids, crown corks, caps||$132,702,000||+10.1%|
|87||Miscellaneous fresh/chilled vegetables||$131,438,000||+12.6%|
|89||Live bovine cattle||$117,705,000||-5.6%|
|90||Machinery for making semi-conductors||$115,384,000||-6.6%|
|91||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$115,278,000||-4.3%|
|92||Iron or steel scrap||$114,749,000||-15.2%|
|94||Uncarded synthetic staple fibers||$113,456,000||-10.2%|
|95||Dried organs, heparin||$109,845,000||+1.2%|
|96||Plastic builders' items||$107,992,000||-11.2%|
|97||Crustaceans (including lobsters)||$105,848,000||-30.5%|
|99||Non-alcoholic drinks (not water/juice/milk)||$102,235,000||-14.7%|
|100||Sugar confectionery (no cocoa)||$101,341,000||-22.3%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$168 billion or 94% by value for all products exported from Ireland during 2020.
In macroeconomic terms, Ireland’s total exported goods represent 39.9% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($447.7 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 39.9% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2020 compares to 41.1% in 2019. 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 unemployment rate was 5.8% for January 2021, up from an average 4.8% according to Trading Economics.
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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Richest Country Reports, Key Statistics Powering Global Wealth. Accessed on February 27, 2021
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Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on February 27, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Ireland. Accessed on February 27, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on February 27, 2021