Latest figures published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) today show a trade surplus of €44.7bn, the highest annual surplus on record.
Exports for 2011 were €92.9bn, up 4% from 2010, while imports were €48.2bn, up 5% - which resulted in a 3% growth in the trade surplus.
Exports of dairy products increased by 24%, meat by 15% and medical and pharmaceutical products by 9%, the CSO figures revealed.
Exports to key target countries were up significantly compared to 2010 - Brazil by 20%, Russia, by 37% and India 34%,
Preliminary estimates for January 2012 meanwhile show exports of €7.7bn, up 10% on January 2011, and imports of €4.4bn, up 3% on the same month last year.
This resulted in a 20% increase in the trade surplus to €3.2bn for January 2012 compared with January 2011.
"A strong export performance will be crucial to achieving the economic and jobs recovery we are all working so hard for," said Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton, speaking in San Francisco.
"The strong performance of our exports in 2011 confirms the potential for a wider recovery in the economy."
The figures follow the most recent Eurostat data showing that for the full year, 2011, Ireland had the third largest trade surplus in absolute terms in the EU, behind Germany and (narrowly) the Netherlands, Mr Bruton added.
It was notable that many of the larger countries had very significant deficits, he said.
“Despite the warnings of some commentators about our exports, recent weeks and months have seen some encouraging signs in the global economy as well as some further signs that the Irish economy has stabilised and is returning to sustainable growth," the Minister added.
"In this context, today’s announcement that our exports are up 10% year-on-year is very welcome."
However analysts sounded a note of caution, with Davy Stockbrokers' Chief Economist Conall Mac Coille saying the data comes with "severe health warnings".
"Ahead of next week's Irish GDP data for Q4, it is important to remember that the monthly data are a poor guide to the final goods export contribution to GDP," Mr Mac Coille said.
"This relates to distortions from the pharmaceutical sector, where high value goods are imported and then re-exported with relatively small value added.
•Today's release gives us no detail on the traded services sector, which accounts for 50% of exports," he added, saying little could be inferred at this point about the strength of the export sector ahead of next week's GDP data for the fourth quarter.