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.
The top 5 customers buying Ireland’s exports in 2020 were the United States of America, United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium and mainland China. Collectively, that quintet of main importers of Irish exports accounted for over two-thirds of Ireland’s total shipments in 2021 by value.
Applying a continental lens, 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.
Ireland’s Top Trading Partners
Below is a list showcasing 25 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 2021. Also shown is each import country’s percentage of total Irish exports.
- United States: US$58.6 billion (30.8% of Ireland’s total exports)
- United Kingdom: $21.1 billion (11.1%)
- Germany: $20.9 billion (11%)
- Belgium: $16 billion (8.4%)
- China: $13 billion (6.8%)
- Netherlands: $11 billion (5.8%)
- France: $6.5 billion (3.4%)
- Italy: $5.1 billion (2.7%)
- Switzerland: $3.3 billion (1.8%)
- Japan: $3.2 billion (1.7%)
- Spain: $2.7 billion (1.4%)
- Mexico: $2.1 billion (1.1%)
- Poland: $1.6 billion (0.9%)
- Canada: $1.5 billion (0.8%)
- Greece: $1.3 billion (0.7%)
- Sweden: $1 billion (0.5%)
- Australia: $989.6 million (0.5%)
- Israel: $963.4 million (0.5%)
- Hong Kong: $928.5 million (0.5%)
- Norway: $923.2 million (0.5%)
- Turkey: $837.6 million (0.4%)
- Malta: $800 million (0.4%)
- South Korea: $794.5 million (0.4%)
- Czech Republic: $748.9 million (0.4%)
- Portugal: $736 million (0.4%)
Almost nine-tenths (93%) of Irish exports in 2021 were delivered to the above 25 trade partners.
The fastest grower among Ireland’s top importers was Malta via its 1,555% gain. Other major percentage gains belong to Norway (up 175.4%), Israel (up 118.7%), Portugal (up 75.4%), Czech Republic (up 51%) and the United Kingdom (up 27.2%).
Leading the year-over-year reductions in imports from Ireland were Greece (down -35%), Belgium (down -21.7%) and Canada (down -21.5%).
Countries Causing Biggest Trade Deficits for Ireland
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 2021, Ireland incurred the highest trade deficits with the following countries.
- France: -US$6 billion (country-specific trade deficit in 2021)
- Switzerland: -$2.4 billion
- Israel: -$1.9 billion
- United Kingdom: -$538.7 million
- South Korea: -$524 million
- Czech Republic: -$506.8 million
- Malaysia: -$453.3 million
- Vietnam: -$413.7 million
- Taiwan: -$297 million
- India: -$284.3 million
Among Ireland’s trading partners that cause the greatest negative trade balances, Irish deficits with Taiwan (up 152.8%), Switzerland (up 123.6%) and Vietnam (up 83.2%) grew at the fastest pace from 2020 to 2021.
In addition, Ireland transitioned from a $301.5 million surplus with Israel in 2020 to rack up a -$1.9 billion deficit for 2021.
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.
Countries Generating 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.
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 2021, Ireland incurred the highest trade surpluses with the following countries.
- United States: US$39.2 billion (country-specific trade surplus in 2021)
- Belgium: $11.5 billion
- Germany: $11.4 billion
- China: $4.8 billion
- Netherlands: $4.4 billion
- Italy: $2.7 billion
- Japan: $2 billion
- Mexico: $1.7 billion
- Greece: $1.2 billion
- Australia: $876.4 million
Among Ireland’s trading partners that generate the greatest positive trade balances, Irish surpluses with Mexico (up 27.3%), Japan (up 15.8%) and mainland China (up 10.1%) grew from 2020 to 2021.
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 International Trade 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
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles. Accessed on March 21, 2022
Forbes 2017 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on March 21, 2022
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on March 21, 2022
Investopedia, Net Importer Definition. Accessed on March 21, 2022
Zepol’scompany summary highlights by country. Accessed on March 21, 2022