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2010 'best ever year' for Irish exports

Ireland had its best ever year for exports in 2010 but experts today warned the sector alone would not be enough to meet economic targets over the next four years.

Companies traded €161bn worth of goods and services with overseas buyers last year and the Irish Exporters' Association (IEA) expects business to grow by another 7.2pc this year.

But the group's chief executive John Whelan warned more needed to be done to reach the forecasted economic growth under the International Monetary Union/EU bailout.

"The 2011 projection of a growth of 7.2pc for total Irish exports is still well below the rate of growth in exports required to enable the targets in the IMF four-year plan to be achieved," he said.

Mr Whelan said exports would have to grow by more than 10pc to secure overall economic targets under the Government's four-year recovery plan.

He said homegrown firms would need to see overseas trade increase by 8pc and foreign multinationals would need growth of 11pc a year.

"If growth rates of this magnitude were achieved they would lead to 300,000 new jobs in the private sector and we believe that job creation on this scale is required to support the achievement of Ireland's GDP and tax targets," Mr Whelan said.

Manufacturing and agri-food sectors were the main drivers in the increase in exports last year, the IEA review said.

Irish agri-food grew by 8pc in 2010 and growth of this magnitude was expected to continue in 2011, the group said.

The life sciences sector, which includes chemicals, pharmaceuticals and medical devices and accounts for 63pc of exports, grew by 12pc last year. The IEA said it expected the sector to continue to grow this year but perhaps at a more moderate rate.

The 2010 review revealed both old and new markets helped drive the export business from Ireland.

Trade to North America was particularly strong with sales to the USA, the largest market, up 18pc, and to Canada up 27pc. Exports to Germany, the largest EU market, increased 42pc.

Emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India, and China (Bric countries) showed an increase of 12pc.

Mr Whelan said the statistics indicated there had been a clear shift away from dependence on the UK market in favour of North America, South America and Asia.

He also noted exchange rates were expected to remain favourable this year with the positive trend which supported export growth last year to continue against both Sterling and the US dollar.

The IEA also predicted that unemployment of 13.25pc would not fall this year as the Government shed public sector jobs and banks cut staff numbers.

PA Media