Category Archives: Irish Exports

16/10/19: Ireland and the Global Trade Wars

My first column for The Currency covering "Ireland, global trade wars and economic growth: Why Ireland’s economic future needs to be re-imagined":

Synopsis: “Trade conflicts sweeping across the globe today are making these types of narrower bilateral agreements the new reality for our producers and policymakers.”

27/7/19: A Cautionary Tale of Irish-UK Trade Numbers

Per recent discussion on Twitter, I decided to post some summary stats on changes in Irish total trade with the UK in recent years.

Here is the summary of period-averages for 2003-2017 data (note: pre-2003 data does not provide the same quality of coverage for Services trade and is harder to compare to more modern data vintage).

So, overall, across three periods (pre-Great Recession, 2003-2008), during the Great Recession (2009-2013) and in the current recovery period (2014-2017, with a caveat that annual data is only available through 2017 for all series), we have:

  • UK share of total exports and imports by Ireland in merchandise trade has fallen from an average annual share of 23.31 percent in pre-Great Recession period, to 18.06 percent in the post-crisis recovery period.
  • However, this decline in merchandise trade importance of the UK has been less than matched by a shallower drop in Services trade: UK share of total services exports and imports by Ireland has fallen from 64.86 percent in pre-crisis period to 62.97 percent in the recovery period.
  • Overall, taking in both exports and imports across both goods and services trade flows, UK share of Irish external trade has risen from 41.43 percent in the pre-crisis period to 45.4 percent in the current period.
  • Statistically, neither period is distinct from the overall historical average (based on 95% confidence intervals around the historical mean), which really means that all trends (in decline in the UK share in Goods & Services and in increase across all trade) are not statistically different from being... err... flat. 
  • Taken over shorter time periods, there has been a statistically significant decline in UK share of Merchandise trade in 2014-2017 relative to 2003-2005, but not in Services trade, and the increase in the UK share of Irish overall trade was also statistically significant over these period ranges. 
  • Overall, therefore, Total trade and Services trade trends are relatively weak, subject to volatility, while Merchandise trend is somewhat (marginally) more pronounced.
Here are annual stats plotted:

Using (for accuracy and consistency) CSO data on Irish trade (Services and Merchandise) by the size of enterprise (available only for 2017), the UK share of Irish trade is disproportionately more significant for SMEs:

In 2017, SMEs (predominantly Irish indigenous exporters and importers who are the largest contributors to employment in Ireland, and thus supporters of the total tax take - inclusive of payroll taxes, income taxes, corporate taxes, business rates etc) exposure to trade with the UK was 51.2 percent of total Irish exports and imports. For large enterprises, the corresponding importance of the UK as Ireland's trading partner was 13.62 percent. 

In reality, of course, Irish trade flows with the UK are changing. They are changing in composition and volumes, and they are reflecting general trends in the Irish economy's evolution and the strengthening of Irish trade links to other countries. These changes are good, when not driven by politics, nationalism, Brexit or false sense of 'political security' in coy Dublin analysts' brigades. Alas, with more than half of our SMEs trade flows being still linked to the UK, it is simply implausible to argue that somehow Ireland has been insulated from the UK trade shocks that may arise from Brexit. Apple's IP, Facebook's ad revenues, and Google's clients lists royalties, alongside aircraft leasing revenues and assets might be insulated just fine. Real jobs and real incomes associated with the SMEs trading across the UK/NI-Ireland border are not.

Whilst a few billion of declines in the FDI activity won't change our employment rosters much, 1/10th of that drop in the SMEs' exports or imports will cost some serious jobs pains, unless substituted by other sources for trade. And anyone who has ever been involved in exporting and/or importing knows: substitution is a hard game in the world of non-commodities trade.

9/2/16: Currency Devaluation and Small Countries: Some Warning Shots for Ireland

In recent years, and especially since the start of the ECB QE programmes, euro depreciation vis-a-vis other key currencies, namely the USD, has been a major boost to Ireland, supporting (allegedly) exports growth and improving valuations of our exports. However, exports-led recovery has been rather problematic from the point of view of what has been happening on the ground, in the real economy. In part, this effect is down to the source of exports growth - the MNCs. But in part, it seems, the effect is also down to the very nature of our economy ex-MNCs.

Recent research from the IMF (see: Acevedo Mejia, Sebastian and Cebotari, Aliona and Greenidge, Kevin and Keim, Geoffrey N., External Devaluations: Are Small States Different? (November 2015). IMF Working Paper No. 15/240: investigated “whether the macroeconomic effects of external devaluations have systematically different effects in small states, which are typically more open and less diversified than larger peers.”

Notice that this is about ‘external’ devaluations (via the exchange rate channel) as opposed to ‘internal’ devaluations (via real wages and costs channel). Also note, the data set for the study does not cover euro area or Ireland.

The study found “that the effects of devaluation on growth and external balances are not significantly different between small and large states, with both groups equally likely to experience expansionary [in case of devaluation] or contractionary [in case of appreciation] outcomes.” So far, so good.

But there is a kicker: “However, the transmission channels are different: devaluations in small states are more likely to affect demand through expenditure compression, rather than expenditure-switching channels. In particular, consumption tends to fall more sharply in small states due to adverse income effects, thereby reducing import demand.”

Which, per IMF team means that the governments of small open economies experiencing devaluation of their exchange rate (Ireland today) should do several things to minimise the adverse costs spillover from devaluation to households/consumers. These are:

  1. “Tight incomes policies after the devaluation ― such as tight monetary and government wage policies―are crucial for containing inflation and preventing the cost-push inflation from taking hold more permanently. …While tight wage policies are certainly important in the public sector as the largest employer in many small states, economy-wide consensus on the need for wage restraint is also desirable.” Let’s see: tight wages policies, including in public sector. Not in GE16 you won’t! So one responsive policy is out.
  2. “To avoid expenditure compression exacerbating poverty in the most vulnerable households, small countries should be particularly alert to these adverse effects and be ready to address them through appropriately targeted and efficient social safety nets.” Which means that you don’t quite slash and burn welfare system in times of devaluations. What’s the call on that for Ireland over the last few years? Not that great, in fairness.
  3. “With the pick-up in investment providing the strongest boost to growth in expansionary devaluations, structural reforms to remove bottlenecks and stimulate post-devaluation investment are important.” Investment? Why, sure we’d like to have some, but instead we are having continued boom in assets flipping by vultures and tax-shenanigans by MNCs paraded in our national accounts as ‘investment’. 
  4. “A favorable external environment is important in supporting growth following devaluations.” Good news, everyone - we’ve found one (so far) thing that Ireland does enjoy, courtesy of our links to the U.S. economy and courtesy of us having a huge base of MNCs ‘exporting’ to the U.S. and elsewhere around the world. Never mind this is all about tax optimisation. Exports are booming. 
  5. “The devaluation and supporting policies should be credible enough to stem market perceptions of any further devaluation or policy adjustments.” Why is it important to create strong market perception that further devaluations won’t take place? Because “…expectations of further devaluations or an increase in the sovereign risk premium would push domestic interest rates higher, imposing large costs in terms of investment, output contraction and financial instability.” Of course, we - as in Ireland - have zero control over both quantum of devaluation and its credibility, because devaluation is being driven by the ECB. But do note that, barring ‘sufficient’ devaluation, there will be costs in the form of higher cost of capital and government and real economic debt.It is worth noting that these costs will be spread not only onto Ireland, but across the entire euro area. Should we get ready for that eventuality? Or should we just continue to ignore the expected path of future interest rates, as we have been doing so far? 

I would ask your friendly GE16 candidates for their thoughts on the above… for the laughs…

10/9/15: 2Q 2015 National Accounts: External Trade

In the first post of the series covering 2Q national Accounts data, I dealt with sectoral composition of growth, using GDP at Factor Cost figures.

The second post considered the headline GDP and GNP growth data.

The third post in the series looked at the Expenditure side of the National Accounts, and Domestic Demand that normally more closely reflects true underlying economic performance,

Now, consider extern trade.

  • Exports of Goods and Services were up 13.56% y/y in 2Q 2015 previously having risen 14.17% y/y in 1Q 2015. Over the last 4 quarters, growth in exports of goods and services averaged 14.2% y/y.
  • Most of growth in exports of Goods and Services is accounted for by growth in Goods exports alone. These rose 16.36% y/y in 2Q 2015 after rising 16.86% y/y in 1Q 2015. Average y/y growth rate in the last 4 quarters was 18.38%. In other words, apparently Irish exports of goods are doubling in size every 4 years. Which, of course, is simply unbelievable. Instead, what we have here is a combination of tax optimisation by the MNCs and effects of currency valuations on the same.
  • Exports of Services also grew strongly in 2Q 2015, rising 10.34% y/y, having previously grown 10.94% in 1Q 2015 and averaging growth of 9.94% over the last 4 quarters. Again, these numbers are beyond any reasonable believable uptick in real activity and reflect MNCs activities and forex valuations.
  • Imports of Goods and Services rose 16.9% y/y in 2Q 2015, an increase on already fast rate of growth of 15.46% in 1Q 2015. Unlike exports side, imports side of goods and services trade was primarily driven by imports of services which rose 21.8% y/y in 2Q 2015 (+20.7% y/y on average over the last 4 quarters) as compared to 9.0% growth y/y in imports of goods (+13.5% y/y on average over last 4 quarters).

As the result of the above changes,

  • Trade Balance in Goods and Services fell in 2Q 2015 by 1.8% y/y, having previously recorded an increase of 7.4% y/y in 1Q 2015. Combined 1H 2015 trade balance is now up only EUR399 million on same period 2014 (+2.26%).
  • Trade Balance in Goods registered 26.9% higher surplus in 2Q 2015, and was up EUR6.206 billion in 1H 2015 compared to 1H 2014 (+28.4%). Trade Balance in Services, however, posted worsening deficit of EUR5.584 billion in 2Q 2015 against a deficit of EUR2.174 billion back in 2Q 2014. Over the 1H 2015, trade deficit in services worsened by EUR5.806 billion compared to 1H 2014 (a deterioration of 136% y/y).


  1. Irish external trade continued to show strong influences from currency valuations and MNCs activities ramp up, making the overall external trade growth figures look pretty much meaningless. 
  2. Overall Trade Balance, however, deteriorated in 2Q 2015, which means that external trade made a negate contribution to GDP growth. 
  3. Over the course of 1H 2015, the increase in overall Irish trade balance was relatively modest at 2.26% with growth in goods exports net of goods imports largely offset by growth in services imports net of services exports.

Stay tuned for more analysis of the National Accounts.