Irish exports steadied at €25.48bn in 2020 despite Covid-19 and Brexit challenges, Enterprise Ireland has reported.

Companies supported by Enterprise Ireland recorded €25.48bn in exports in 2020, an increase of 0.3pc on the previous year, the state agency responsible for helping Irish companies start, grow and scale in international markets has reported.

As global economies reopen, Irish exporters are generally optimistic that growth of up to 8pc can be achieved by the end of 2021 and Enterprise Ireland said it will be enhancing its supports to help companies meet the new challenges of sustainability, digitalisation and internationalisation.

“These export results highlight the underlying strength of our export sector during 2020 and are a great credit to our excellent Irish companies”

Exports to the Eurozone continued to grow, increasing by 1.6pc to a total value of €5.85bn in 2020. The Eurozone now accounts for 23pc of exports, which is double what it was a decade ago

While the UK remains our largest export market, it contracted by 3.8pc in 2020. The UK now accounts for 29pc of total exports, down from 40pc 10 years ago but still accounting for €7.51bn now versus €5.5bn at that time

Export sales to North America and the Asia-Pacific region held up well, falling by just 1pc in each case, to sales of €4.46bn and €2.14bn, respectively.

Sectors of growth

Man in grey jacket blue shirt.

Enterprise Ireland CEO Leo Clancy

“As economies around the global rebound and open, our client companies are forecasting a return to growth and we will also be supporting them through the full reopening of our overseas office network, trade mission programme and in-market supports”

The main sectors of growth were construction, up 12pc to €2.51bn; consumer retail, up 6.1pc to €989m; and fintech, up 2pc to €658m. Food grew by 0.6pc to €12.17bn in export sales

However, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was evident in some markets with exports to the Middle East, Africa and Indian market contracting by 7pc, to €1.15bn

“These export results highlight the underlying strength of our export sector during 2020 and are a great credit to our excellent Irish companies,” said Enterprise Ireland CEO Leo Clancy.

“Enterprise Ireland has worked intensively with these companies to support them through this challenging period both in Ireland and across the world. Last year, through our 40 overseas offices, we helped Irish companies win over 1,400 contracts.

“We also provided a range of Covid-19 funding supports including approving €181 million in Sustaining Enterprise funding to 671 companies sustaining more than 27,500 jobs.”

Enterprise Ireland said that the outlook for Irish exporters was positive and that Irish exporters surveyed by the agency were anticipating a boost in export sales by the end of 2021, of up to 8pc, based on economies around the world recovering from Covid-19, opening up and restrictions being lifted. The actual outcome will depend on developments during the year in terms of both the course of the pandemic and on global market conditions.

In the first half of 2021, Enterprise Ireland saw positive signs of growth:

  • 585 new contract wins, a 14pc increase compared to the same period in 2020
  • 173 new client overseas presences
  • A doubling of engagement with companies looking to export into the Eurozone rising from 108 in the first five months of 2020 to 247 for the same period this year
  • 2365 virtual meetings between Irish exporters and international buyers

The agency also said that it has already physically reopened 27 of its 40 overseas offices, and that it plans to physically reopen the remaining 13 international offices in Q3 and Q4, subject to Covid-19 restrictions. It is also planning to recommence its programme of in-market trade missions from September to the UK, Eurozone, North America and the Middle East.

“Today’s results give us reason to be hopeful about the future,” Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar, TD, said. “There is a general expectation among Enterprise Ireland companies that export growth will return to pre-pandemic levels in 2021. This positivity also extends to the important UK market where, despite the logistical challenges many companies have overcome, businesses are planning to increase exports there.

“So, things are looking up. Our exporting sector is vital to our future economic success and job creation strategy. This Government will continue to work with the sector to ensure that we create world-leading firms, ready to compete and win in the global market.”

Leo Clancy concluded that Irish companies are looking to growth in 2021.

“As economies around the global rebound and open, our client companies are forecasting a return to growth and we will also be supporting them through the full reopening of our overseas office network, trade mission programme and in-market supports. We take nothing for granted however and need to acknowledge that the second half of 2021 will continue to be challenging.

“Our client survey showed that many Irish companies are very early on their journey to sustainability and digitalisation, and our focus will be to help them build sustainability plans through the Climate Enterprise Action Fund, and to continue to digitalise through training and funding, to boost their international competitiveness, export growth and jobs.”

By John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 24 June 2021