A common market: the importance of Ireland for UK exporters

For the last two years, much of the news agenda has been dominated by the prospect of the so-called ‘Brexit’, the process by which the UK will cease to be a member of the European Union.

With just over five months to go until that happens, details of the withdrawal are still to be ironed out.

Many firms are understandably concerned whether their trade with the remaining members of the EU will continue and, if so, what impact there might be..

Deliberations over how cross-border business between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland have been especially difficult.

Dubbed ‘The Irish Question’, politicians and economists have debated the potential consequences of any tariffs or border controls.

Now, data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has added weight to those who believe resolution of the issue is of critical importance (

The figures have been made available as part of an annual study on the UK’s balance of payments which shows a widening deficit, principally as a result of the country importing more from its European neighbours than it exports to them.

However, dig a little deeper and a truly fascinating picture emerges.

The UK’s trading position with the Republic of Ireland continues to improve, something which CAE Delivers is acutely aware of as the leading independent carrier specialising in UK-to-Ireland shipments.

During the last 20 years, in fact, the UK’s trade surplus with Ireland has more than doubled – from £2.8 billion to £6 billion. The only other EU country with which the UK enjoyed any growth over the same period of time was Malta and that surplus grew by a comparatively small £200 million.

Furthermore, the total value of exports across the Irish Sea was worth £20.4 billion last year, almost as much as sales to France (£24.2 billion) and the Netherlands (£22 billion) and twice as much as those destined for Spain despite Ireland’s population being a fraction of their respective sizes.

Ireland also ranks fifth in terms of the values of goods and services exported from the UK to all its global trading partners, a ranking topped by the United States (£51.3 billion).

The types of goods exported are also interesting and bear out our experience.

Over the last five years, for instance, the value of pharmaceutical sales to Ireland have increased by 102 per cent while general consumer goods (16 per cent) and clothing (23 per cent) have also risen considerably - the last two due in no small part to the Republic’s consumers embracing online shopping.

The volume of e-commerce consignments which CAE Delivers now handles on behalf of major UK-based brands is one reason why we became one of the first British parcel firms to adopt Eircode, the Irish government’s sophisticated postcode system (

Along with improvements to how our staff in the UK process and dispatch goods to Ireland, Eircode allows us an even greater chance of making first-time deliveries to those who buy goods via the internet.

As we announced only last week, CAE Delivers has also now been integrated onto the world-leading e-commerce platform MetaPack. That means more even retailers can take advantage of our best-in-class delivery services to reach business and private customers right across the island of Ireland (

The shape of Brexit negotiations may still be unclear but one thing is certain: Ireland is an increasingly appealing market for many British firms and, I suspect, will continue to be so even after the UK and EU have gone their separate ways.