New figures confirm our exports lag way behind rest of EU
Rise of just 6pc show Ireland is failing to exploit global boom
IRISH exports rose just 6pc last year, confirming EU figures which show that export growth here is much slower than elsewhere in Europe.
Exports rose to €82.8bn between January and November of last year. The sale of medical and pharmaceutical products, along with organic chemicals, offset a 31pc plunge in sales of computer equipment.
Exports to the US increased by 11pc and to Germany by 15pc.
The US, Belgium, Great Britain and Germany accounted for 60pc of the total value of exports in the first 11 months of 2010, underscoring Ireland's reliance on four economies for a large portion of our trade.
Two of those markets are struggling at the moment. Growth in Britain unexpectedly contracted in the fourth quarter of last year, while heavily indebted Belgium has failed to appoint a new government despite months of horse trading between parties.
Figures from the European Union earlier this month showed that only Luxembourg lagged Ireland when it came to export growth inside the EU.
Many countries, such as Sweden and Poland, saw exports jump more than 20pc in the first 11 months of 2010 as those countries plugged into the booming world economy.
Despite unprecedented growth in the so-called BRIC nations of Brazil, Russia, India and China, our combined exports to these four countries are smaller than to either Spain or Switzerland, according to a breakdown of yesterday's figures, published by the Central Statistics Office.
Preliminary figures from the CSO also showed that seasonally adjusted exports were little changed in December from the previous month while imports increased by 12pc.
This pushed down the seasonally adjusted trade surplus for the first time in four months. It was €3.74bn, down 10pc from €4.1bn in November.
While a decline in the trade surplus is rarely good news, the November figure was a record surplus and the statistics now point to a record merchandise trade surplus of almost €45bn in 2010. If this figure is confirmed next month, it will mark a new record high that is €5,540m higher than the cumulative surplus of the 2009 record.
Analysts said merchandise export growth moderated somewhat in the final quarter of 2010 as the snow dented trade and a weak world economy led to sagging world trade.
Alan McQuaid, chief economist at Bloxham Stockbrokers, said exports remain a bright spot for the Irish economy.
He commented: "The bottom line is that the export sector offers the one ray of light at the moment in a fairly gloomy economic picture, and will be the key driver of the Irish recovery story in the short-term.
"We think 2011 will be another very good year for Irish exports, with the merchandise trade surplus forecast to rise to close on €50bn."