Irish exports surge 12% to a record €27.2bn

Exports grew across all territories in 2021, with exports to the Eurozone up by 10%.

2021 was the highest ever level of growth for Enterprise Ireland-backed companies in export value, with the State agency reporting that Irish companies’ exports increased 12% to a record €27.29bn.

Exports from Enterprise Ireland supported companies last year grew across all territories.  Despite the uncertainty caused by the changed trading relationship between the UK and Ireland, exports to this market totalled €8.43bn.  This marks a rise of 15% and the UK accounts for almost one-third (31%) of our export trade.

“While the UK remains our largest trading partner it is good to see that our strategy to grow exports in other key markets, especially the Eurozone, continues to pay dividends”

The results were welcomed by Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar, TD, who said: “These are really impressive results and a testament to the hard work and resilience of thousands of Irish entrepreneurs and their staff across the country.

“It is quite remarkable that despite the headwinds we faced last year, not least the realisation of Brexit and the continuing effects of the pandemic, Irish business managed to have a record year for exports – 12% up on the previous year. Behind these figures today are thousands of jobs in every county in the country.”

Post-Brexit diversification

Diversification has been a key focus of Enterprise Ireland’s work in recent years, and exports by client companies to the Eurozone increased by 10% last year, totalling €6.04bn and accounting for over one-fifth (22%) of total exports.

The next largest market was North America, which saw a 14% increase, bringing total exports to €4.87bn.  This important market, our third largest, now accounts for 18% of total exports from Enterprise Ireland supported companies.

Growth was seen across almost all economic sectors in 2021 and food exports increased by 6%, accounting for over €12.91bn or 47% of total exports. 

Exports from construction firms increased by almost one-quarter (24%) totalling €2.89bn in 2021, in 2021, while consumer retail exports rose by 13% to €1.09bn. Exports from Enterprise Ireland- backed digital technology firms rose by more than one-fifth to a value of €1.53bn. While exports from the engineering sector rose by 14% in 2021 to €1.82bn.

“These exceptionally strong export results follow on from the record number of net new jobs created in companies supported by Enterprise Ireland last year,” said Enterprise Ireland CEO Leo Clancy.

“There has been positive growth across most sectors and regions, and Enterprise Ireland clients contributed €31bn to the domestic economy last year in employment and in purchases of materials and services. While the UK remains our largest trading partner it is good to see that our strategy to grow exports in other key markets, especially the Eurozone, continues to pay dividends.” 

Despite the challenges in the first six months of this year, Enterprise Ireland clients have recorded positive growth in the first half of 2022 including:

  • 561 new overseas contracts, 85% of which are outside the UK
  • 199 new overseas presences
  • 93 companies entered new markets

Challenges for 2022 and beyond

Despite the positive momentum of the last year, Enterprise Ireland research has identified a number of key challenges facing Irish exporters in the months ahead, particularly the growing impact of inflation, including energy costs, and continuing supply chain issues. Enterprise Ireland client companies also cited the lack of experienced staff as being a significant issue facing their firms over the next three years.

In the medium term all companies are facing challenges in the areas of climate change, sustainability and digitalisation as well as in adapting to potential skills shortages. According to respondents to the recent survey of Enterprise Ireland’s client companies:

One-third said they have developed a climate action response for their business, but just over 15% of respondents said they measure CO2 emissions,

Less than one-fifth (17%) of respondents said digital is fully embedded and optimised across all aspects of their businesses

“While these positive results from 2021 are very encouraging in terms of a foundation for 2022, the resilience of our exporters is being challenged by inflation, supply chain challenges and skills availability,” Clancy explained.

“However, the increased investment in innovation last year means companies are better positioned to face these challenges. Client companies we support invested in innovation at record levels last year, with an R&D spend of €1.36bn, with 1080 clients spending more than €100,000 on research and innovation last year.

“Our focus in the second half of the year is to work with clients to help them sustain and grow their employment, to support them through company investments to address sustainability and competitiveness issues and to continue to work with clients to build their export markets.”

Main image at top (from left): Terence O’Rourke, Chair, Enterprise Ireland; Nicola Mitchell, CEO, Life Scientific; Sinead Fitzmaurice, CEO Transfermate; An Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, TD; Jennifer Rock, CEO Skin Ingredients; and Leo Clancy, CEO Enterprise Ireland

John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.