IRISH exports grew 5pc or by €8bn to €171bn last year but 2012 will be more sluggish, according to the sectors representative body.
The Irish Exporters Association also said that a new approach needs to be taken by focusing more on selling into the emerging markets or so-called BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China.
IEA chief executive John Whelan is predicting a growth rate of 3pc for Irish exports in 2012.
And he accepted that this figure is below the 5pc rate needed to meet Irish economic and employment recovery levels implicit in the EU/IMF/ECB programme targets.
Currently emerging markets account for just 4pc of our exports while the EU-27 member states combined increased sales to BRIC countries by 22.5pc last year.
It added that we are already playing catch-up with most of our competitors in these markets.
‘’We cannot underestimate the challenges ahead for exporters, particularly in the light of continued uncertainty around the resolution of the eurozone debt crises , and the fragility of the UK’s economic recovery,” warned Mr Whelan.
“Steps must be taken to support those companies looking to target markets in the rapidly growing economies in Asia, Middle East and Africa, particularly small and medium businesses , who must be supported to take risks and seek out new markets.”
Contraction in the eurozone economy seem inevitable while there are also fears the UK will fall back into recession.
These two markets alone account for a combined €95.2bn in Irish exports or 56pc of goods and services, showing our dependence on more traditional trading partners.
Most economists are now forecasting a gross domestic product average growth rate of minus 0.2pc in 2012 for the eurozone and growth of 1.6pc for the US and 1.3pc for other developed markets.
“If growth in Irish exports is to be achieved, Irish firms must increasingly look at non-traditional markets.”
Agri-food was the fastest growing merchandise sector which increased by over 10pc to €7.7bn.
Other growth areas were the pharma/chemical sectors while computer hardware stopped its slide of recent years and grew by 1pc.
While the first half of the year was a boom time for exports, the market ran out of steam in the last six months of 2011.
Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton said recently that exports will be the driver of economic growth here.
Mr Whelan also called on the Government and the IDA to continue in its drive to bring more multinationals to operate here.
GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy put on a united front today in their first meeting of the year as eurozone members try to hammer out an inter-governmental treaty with tougher budgetary rules for the 17 members.