Category Archives: Irish imports

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.

17/5/15: Irish Merchandise Trade: 1Q 2015

Irish trade in goods statistics - the ones responsible for the tax-induced economic dizziness in the National Accounts over 2014 - are back at posting more absurd numbers.

Take a look at data through March 2015:

  • 1Q 2015 imports of goods stood at EUR14,819 million which represents an increase of 10.5% y/y and 18.6% cumulative rise over the last two years. Relative to 2000-2007 period average, Irish imports of goods are up 3.8%. These are pretty large numbers, even allowing for currency valuations. 
  • 1Q 2015 exports of goods from Ireland stood at EUR24,957.6 million, which represents an increase of 17.4% y/y. Yep, apparently Irish exports outputs are growing at a rate that implies doubling of the entire export capacity every 4 years, plus a month or so. No, seriously, folks - at this rate of building manufacturing facilities and logistics parks to accommodate all this stupendous growth, there won't be any cranes and construction crews left in the entire UK and probably none in France either. All would have been busy adding new land to Ireland.
  • Now, we can compute % change in exports per 1% change in imports as the latter are often inputs into production of the former. Even recognising that imports of goods are also growing on foot of improving domestic demand, current exports elasticity with respect to imports is the third largest - lagging behind only two out the last 25 years: 1992 and 2004. What happened back in 1992? Ah, yes, new FDI in ICT manufacturing sector pushed Irish exports by 16% y/y in one year off a low base. It took couple of years thereafter for imports to catch up with this tremendous 'value creation' by stuffing computers and software disks into boxes. And in 2004? Well, that arrived on foot of abysmal 2003, when exports sunk and trade surplus went into largest y/y decline on record. So here we have it: the miracle of Irish exports growth: more of 1992 (tax arbitrage) and less 2004 (post collapse bounce).

Now, take a look at some dizzying numbers for March:

As the above shows, March marked the third highest value of goods exports for any month on record. Year on year, imports of goods were up 14.21% in March after posting 12.08% growth in February. Meanwhile, exports of goods rose 20.85% y/y in March after posting 16.92% growth in February. Trade balance rose 32.61% y/y in March having grown 24.21% in February.

Put frankly, even Google's big data analysts would struggle connecting these numbers to any tangible reality.

Chart below shows shorter range for dynamics.