A LEADING trade body has revised up its export forecasts for the year after a strong first quarter for the export industry.
The Irish Exporters' Association (IEA) said the value of goods and services shipped overseas during the first three months of the year increased 9.4pc, or by €3.5bn, year-on-year to €40.9bn.
Based on that performance, the IEA forecasts exports to rise by 9.1pc to €177.5bn this year. At the start of the year the association said it expected a 7.2pc rise this year.
Despite the higher forecasts, the IEA warned that export growth cannot be taken for granted and pointed to a number of factors that could affect the export sector.
"Global trade could be easily derailed if fuel prices go higher, due to the impact of the Japanese disaster on world trade and if interest rates rise too high, as well as continued protectionist measures as governments try to protect their employment numbers," said IEA chief executive John Whelan (pictured left).
Growth was driven mainly by the US and UK markets, which increased by 16pc and 14pc respectively.
Merchandise exports from Ireland rose 10.5pc to €22.9bn, driven mainly by the pharmaceutical and agri-food sectors. Agri in particular benefited from higher commodity prices worldwide, the IEA said. Merchandise exports are slated to top €98.3bn by the end of the year.
Services exports gained 8pc to €17.9bn with computer services and the financial sector leading the way. It is expected that services exports will total €79.1bn this year.
Mr Whelan said the growth in financial services reflects "the continued attractiveness of Ireland as a location for high-end back office investment services".
"The World Trade Organisation's forecast on global trade growth for 2011 shows a decline from 14.5pc in 2010, to a more modest 6.5pc this year.
"In contrast, we believe that as a result of a return to greater competitiveness in the Irish economy and with world-wide commodity prices continuing strong, that Ireland looks set to see its export growth rates exceeding the global average in 2011," said Mr Whelan.