EXPORTS continued to grow last year, as the services sector boosted trade dramatically.
In its review of 2012, the Irish Exporters' Association (IEA) said exports climbed 5pc during the year, even as the pharmaceutical sector saw a noticeable drop off in its business.
For the year, exports surged by more than €9bn to €183.4bn. That was 5pc better than in 2011.
The bulk of the growth came from the services sector, which increased 11.1pc to €90.4bn. Trade in goods and merchandise, however, was flat at €92.9bn.
IEA boss John Whelan said the sector had been resilient despite ongoing issues in the global market.
"Ireland's export growth at twice the world trade average for 2012 shows a strong return to competitiveness in many businesses," he said.
Chemical and pharmaceutical goods exports again dominated merchandise exports, at €56bn. That was essentially flat on 2011, due to the so-called "patent cliff" beginning to impact on the sector.
A number of high-profile drugs manufactured here, including the blockbuster cholesterol drug Lipitor, came off patent last year, with more to come in 2013.
"The patent cliff has had a real impact but the US Food and Drug Administration approved 39 new drugs last year. That was the most since 1996 so we are hopeful the influx of new "on patent" drugs will help offset losses," he said.
The big faller on the merchandise side was in computer hardware and peripherals, where the value of exports plunged by nearly 16pc.
That was due mainly to companies such as Dell transitioning from a manufacturing business here to a more services-focused company.
Computer services exports rose by the same percentage.
Mr Whelan said Ireland was now seen as a "prime location" in Europe for hi-tech mobile, internet and social-media technology companies. "There is no doubt that there is a direct link between the increased success in this sector and our increased competitiveness, which, if maintained, will ensure significant long-term jobs growth," he added.
Despite the strong overall figures – the IEA is forecasting 5pc growth this year – Mr Whelan warned the Government had to spend more time promoting the country in emerging markets.
"Brazil, Russia, India and China are all fast-growth economies but our exports to those countries fell overall last year. The Government must expand its efforts to support Irish exporters in the emerging markets," he added.