The UK is the third-largest export market for Irish goods but plays a key role in terms of agriculture and food products, official figures show.
The CSO said that Ireland exported over €16bn of goods to the UK last year and imported €20bn in goods from the UK. In terms of exports, the UK is the third-largest market for goods exports behind the US at €39.3bn and Belgium at €18.2bn.
But the composition of exports means the UK accounts for a significant part of overall Irish food exports and imports. And economists have said many of the grocery items sold in supermarkets are imported from across the Irish Sea.
“More than two-fifths of our food exports in 2018 were to the UK, with a value of €4.8bn. Just under half of our total food imports of €7.8bn in 2018 came from the UK,” said the CSO.
Economists have long pointed out the huge trade in both exports and imports across the Irish Sea that are vulnerable to Brexit. Food and agriculture employ proportionately more people than other Irish industries and the threat of any hard Brexit weighs heavily on employment in rural areas.
The CSO said Ireland exported €2.4bn of milk, cheese, and butter last year, of which a third went to the UK. The figures show bovine meat exports worth €1bn, or half of all such exports, went to the UK in 2018.
More than three-quarters of imports of milk, cheese, and butter, at €481m, were sourced from the UK. After the UK, the US, France, Germany, and China are the next largest trading partners for imported goods.