EXPORTS of goods hit their highest levels in a decade last year but economists cautioned against reading too much into the figures.
Total exports of goods reached €92bn last year which was a 1pc increase on 2011, the Central Statistics Office said yesterday. The figures exclude exports of services which are rising rapidly, suggesting that the eventual figures for both goods and services will be high.
"Conditions in international markets remain difficult, but today's record figures show that Irish exporters are performing extraordinarily well," said Trade Minister Richard Bruton.
"Major challenges remain but I am convinced that, with continued strong implementation, we can help drive for the export-led jobs recovery we need."
The CSO figures show that exports rose 0.9pc to €92bn while imports rose 1.5pc to €49bn. That pushed up the trade surplus by just €72m to €43bn. Imports were pushed higher by demand for food (up 11pc to €5.5bn) and beverages and tobacco (up 4pc to €800m).
Exports have been worrying economists for some time as several blockbuster drugs made in Ireland came off patent towards the end of last year. That suppressed exports in the closing months of the year.
Returning to the full-year, figures for 2012 show that total exports to EU member states rose 3.2pc (helped by a 6.8pc surge in exports to the UK) while exports to the eurozone only increased 1.9pc. Exports to countries in trouble such as Spain and Portugal fell while exports to Germany rose.
The bad news was that exports to the US slumped 15.9pc due to a fall in chemical exports such as anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor. They also fell 2.3pc to the fast-growing BRIC countries.
"In all, for Ireland to have grown exports and the trade surplus in the face of challenging conditions across many of its key trading partners during 2012 is a very creditable performance," said Philip O'Sullivan at NCB Stockbrokers.