Exports on the increase and businesses looking to diversify: IEA Brexit Survey

20th March 2018: The Irish Exporters Association (IEA), the representative body supporting the Irish export industry, today released its latest figures from its member survey. The ‘IEA Export Eye,’ conducted with members in January 2018 regarding Irish exporters’ sentiments on critical issues that have both direct and indirect impacts on business, specifically focused on Brexit and the skills shortage in Ireland. The analysis of the survey results contains a comparison to a similar survey that the IEA performed with members directly following the UK Referendum to leave the EU in June 2016.

Please find the full results of the survey here.

Commenting on the survey results, Simon McKeever, Chief Executive of the Irish Exporters Association said: “In the days following the UK Referendum in June 2016, the Irish Exporters Association surveyed our members on Brexit’s impact on their business and their biggest concerns. In January this year we performed the same survey and compared the two snapshots to see changes and trends over the last year and a half. What our analysis shows is the resilience of the Irish export industry. Exports to the UK have actually increased. In June 2016, 32% of our members surveyed exported more than a quarter to the UK, this has increased to 44%. And 41% are planning to increase their level of trade with the UK in the next 6 months, this has increased from 31% in 2016.

Our members are also increasingly looking to new markets and to diversify their exports which shows an adaptability and an emerging preparedness to rebalance the over-reliance on the UK market. 66% are planning to diversify their export markets in the next 6 months, up from 54% directly after the referendum.

The release of these figures complements the latest figures from the CSO on external trade for 2017 and both tell the story that the Irish export industry is performing very well. Despite global uncertainty and in the face of our biggest trading partner heading towards the exit sign of the EU, we are driving forward! Irish export figures for 2017 were the highest on record, up 2% on last year. Exports to the EU and USA both increased by 4% and exports to the UK were up 9%.

The IEA are seeing an increasing interest in Germany with 29% of members looking to diversify here as an export market in the next 6 months, this translates to the CSO data with exports to Germany increasing 25% in 2017. Germany was the top destination for diversification with other EU markets featuring prominently, France being third with 23%, Spain fourth at 19% and the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Sweden all appearing in the top 10. There is also a growing interest in English speaking further flung markets with the USA (27%), Australia (17%) and Canada (16%) all gaining popularity. IEA members are looking more towards high growth markets like China (10%), Japan (8%) and ASEAN nations (8%) which is vital to become less dependent on trade relationships with the EU, US and UK.

The results show a very positive picture but it also shows that exporters are proceeding with caution. Irish exporters need more clarity around what a post-Brexit trading environment will look like as concerns over possible customs procedures and tariff implications have increased for our members since the referendum. They are however much less concerned in other areas, such as the impact on the Irish economy or jobs and the free movement of people, services or capital.

An area of major concern for our members is still the current skills shortage in Ireland. 62% have experienced difficulty in recruitment in the last 6 months, the most prominent being in sales and marketing (31%), transport logistics (23%), operations (20%) and supply chain (19%). The skills shortage in the logistics sector has been a major concern for some time and approximately a third of members in this space are experiencing difficulty finding HGV drivers, managers and directors in storage and warehousing, customs expertise and fork‐lift truck drivers.

The IEA are continuing to lobby Government on these issues and we are also refining our training offering to support the industry. We currently offer an extensive range of training on Brexit for your Supply Chain, Good Distribution Practice, Incoterms, Dual Use Export Control, Warehousing and Customs, as well as regular webinars on regulatory updates in Supply Chain. We will launch an Introduction to AEO course later this month.

97% of our members surveyed think that the UK should remain a member of the EU, but regardless the Irish export community are paving the way to succeed with or without their biggest trading partner. The job of the Irish Exporters Association is to help them on this journey and we are committed to helping companies meet the challenges associated with trading in a post-Brexit environment.”