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.
Applying a continental lens, 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%).
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 2020. Also shown is each import country’s percentage of total Irish exports.
- United States: US$53.8 billion (30.1% of Ireland’s total exports)
- Belgium: $20.4 billion (11.4%)
- Germany: $19.9 billion (11.1%)
- United Kingdom: $16.5 billion (9.3%)
- China: $11.2 billion (6.3%)
- Netherlands: $9.7 billion (5.4%)
- France: $5.8 billion (3.2%)
- Italy: $5.2 billion (2.9%)
- Switzerland: $3.7 billion (2.1%)
- Japan: $3.1 billion (1.7%)
- Spain: $2.8 billion (1.5%)
- Greece: $2 billion (1.1%)
- Canada: $1.9 billion (1.1%)
- Mexico: $1.5 billion (0.9%)
- Poland: $1.3 billion (0.7%)
Almost nine-tenths (88.9%) of Irish exports in 2020 were delivered to the above 15 trade partners.
The fastest grower among Ireland’s top importers was Greece via its 114.4% gain. Other double-digit percentage gains belong to Germany (up 30.5%), China (up 21.4%), Italy (up 20.7%) and Belgium (up 17.6%).
Leading the reductions in imports from Ireland was Switzerland, down -40.7% year over year.
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 2020, Ireland incurred the highest trade deficits with the following countries.
- United Kingdom: -US$10.4 billion (country-specific trade deficit in 2020)
- France: -$5.2 billion
- Czech Republic: -$427.1 million
- Switzerland: -$386.6 million
- South Korea: -$302.2 million
- Argentina: -$234.8 million
- Malaysia: -$194.8 million
- Norway: -$134.8 million
- Guinea: -$128.3 million
- Thailand: -$126.6 million
Among Ireland’s trading partners that cause the greatest negative trade balances, Irish deficits with Czech Republic (up 241.2%), United Kingdom (up 101.2%) and Argentina (up 3%) grew from 2019 to 2020.
In addition, Ireland transitioned from a $3.8 billion surplus with Switzerland in 2019 to -$386.6 million in red ink one year later.
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 $80.8 billion trade surplus during 2020, up by 16.6% from $69.3 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 2020, Ireland incurred the highest trade surpluses with the following countries.
- United States: US$41.6 billion (country-specific trade surplus in 2020)
- Belgium: $17.6 billion
- Germany: $11.5 billion
- China: $6.9 billion
- Netherlands: $5 billion
- Italy: $3.3 billion
- Japan: $2.3 billion
- Greece: $2 billion
- Canada: $1.4 billion
- Mexico: $1.2 billion
Among Ireland’s trading partners that generate the greatest positive trade balances, Irish surpluses with Greece (up 125.5%), China (up 96.1%), Germany (up 67.3%) and Canada (up 25.6%) grew at the fastest percentage pace from 2019 to 2020.
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
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles. Accessed on February 27, 2021
Forbes 2016 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on February 27, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on February 27, 2021
Investopedia, Net Importer Definition. Accessed on February 27, 2021
Zepol’scompany summary highlights by country. Accessed on February 27, 2021