IRISH exports, long seen as one of the economy's few bright lights, are growing more slowly than any other country in Europe bar Luxembourg, new figures showed yesterday.
xports from Ireland rose just 5pc in the first 11 months of last year, the European Union's statistics office Eurostat revealed yesterday.
Exports from the UK, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Poland, Holland and several other countries all jumped more than 20pc in the same period.
While Ireland remains mired in economic problems, most of Europe has come out of the recession and is busy manufacturing goods to sell to Asia and South America, where economies are booming.
Evidence of the rising importance of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) came in Eurostat's figures. They show that trade between the 27 countries of the EU jumped 48pc with Brazil and 38pc with both China and Turkey.
Most of the parties contesting next week's election here have placed trade with so-called emerging nations at the centre of their economic strategies but have only presented vague details about how best to help Irish companies sell their goods so far from home.
BusinessEurope, an industry group representing 20 million European companies, said in a report this week that exports were probably responsible for almost one-third of European growth last year.
"Exports have been the main engine of the recovery so far, driving industrial production and stimulating overall economic activity throughout the value chain," it said.
But it also said that European businesses were concerned about the recent and sudden appreciation of the euro.
Yesterday's Eurostat figures put a spotlight on the two-speed recovery in Europe. Irish exports rose just 5pc while Greek exports were up 6pc.
Denmark, another country struggling with high debts and a damaged banking sector, posted a 9pc increase, while every other country saw gains in the double digits. Other figures from Eurostat showed that the eurozone's trade surplus fell sharply in 2010.
The 17-nation zone recorded a trade surplus of €700m last year, compared to €16.6bn in 2009, as imports grew faster than exports.
Exports expanded by 20pc across the single-currency area while imports increased by 22pc.
The eurozone's trade balance with the rest of the world was in the red in the month of December, posting a deficit of €500m after a surplus of €3.2bn in December 2009.
Ireland recorded the second-highest trade surplus in the EU after Germany for the first 11 months of last year. During that period, Irish exports rose to €81.2bn while imports dropped by 1pc to €40.9bn, giving a trade surplus of €40.3bn.
The trade surplus between the EU and the US increased to €67bn in the first 11 months of the year, compared to €42.6bn in the previous year.