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Action is needed before we are left too far behind

THOSE who like their glass half full will be pleased that Eurostat figures confirm once again that Ireland has the largest trade surplus in Europe per head of the population but those who tend to see a half-empty glass will be concerned that exports are expanding more rapidly in the rest of Europe than at home.

Even those who rejoice in the trade surplus figures will acknowledge that our surplus continues to expand because exports are continuing to rise while imports are falling which means that the size of the surplus is being flattered by the weakness of our economy.

Exports are often presented as a panacea to all our problems. While the banks' collapse and our fiscal deficit remains chilling, our export sector enjoys a talismanic quality because they are so far ahead of our partners. Nobody is suggesting that Ireland will lose her status as Europe's premier exporter per capita but it is nevertheless disturbing to realise just how fast we are being left behind as exports soar elsewhere.

Appetite

It is perhaps a little early to say why we are falling behind when we are still so far ahead but there were some clues in Eurostat's figures yesterday.

Exports of goods from the rest of the EU to the so-called BRIC nations are booming as those countries buy the machinery and equipment needed to stoke their boom.

Their appetite for big ticket items such as luxury European cars is also increasing and this is feeding into the double digit gains posted by our rivals.

While a Porsche is only made in one or two countries, many classic Irish exports such as software and pharmaceuticals are made here in Ireland but also in Singapore and the United States for export into Asia and the Americas. Our exports are far less distinctive than many other countries and we may well be losing out in the great struggle to crack the emerging markets.

In areas where we have distinctive products, such as whiskey, we have inexplicably allowed producers of Scottish whisky to dominate exports.

If we are to keep our lead by making inroads in new markets we may have to produce more Irish brands in the years ahead.

Irish Independent