Irish trade surplus hits new high as exports surge

January 18, 2012 - 11:10 AM

DUBLIN (AP) — Ireland's trade surplus has hit a record monthly high on the back of unexpectedly strong exports, the government said Wednesday as it expressed hope of rebounding from its debt crisis.

The Central Statistics Office said Ireland's seasonally adjusted trade surplus exceeded euro4.3 billion ($5.5 billion) in November, up 12.5 percent from a year ago and 15.7 percent from October. It's also 3.3 percent higher than the previous record high reached in September.

Exports in November rose to euro8 billion, up 9 percent from a year ago and 5 percent from the month before, confounding economists' consensus of little to no month-on-month growth.

Imports remained weak at euro3.7 billion, reflecting Ireland's nervous and recessionary domestic economy. The figure was 5 percent higher than a year ago but 6 percent lower than October.

Ireland's government has imposed four straight austerity budgets in a bid to rein in deficit spending that, thanks to a massive bank-bailout program, reached a modern European record of 32 percent of GDP in 2010. Overwhelming bank-rescue costs forced the Irish in November 2010 to negotiate a euro67.5 billion ($87 billion) credit line with the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

With the domestic economy reeling from spending cuts and higher taxes, the government is counting on strong export growth to pull Ireland out of the depths of its debt crisis.

"A strong export performance will be crucial to achieving the economic and jobs recovery we are all working so hard for," said Richard Bruton, Ireland's minister for jobs, enterprise and innovation.

Bruton said economists had expected Irish exports to suffer because of the weakening global economy. "Today's results, and the great resilience which our exports are showing in difficult circumstances, are encouraging," he said.

Alan McQuaid, chief economist at Bloxham Stockbrokers in Dublin, forecast that Ireland's full-year trade surplus would reach a record euro45 billion ($57.5 billion), 3.7 percent higher than last year's record performance.

"Despite the slowdown in the global economy, it is clear that Ireland has a very healthy and dynamic export model and (is) in a much better position than other eurozone peripheral debt countries to move forward once world growth picks up again," McQuaid said.

Ireland, a country of 4.5 million, runs the second-strongest trade surplus in the EU behind export powerhouse Germany. Nearly 1,000 foreign multinationals have made Ireland their EU base because of its 12.5 percent rate of corporate tax, less than half the western European average. The Irish have rebuffed French and German pressure to raise their rate.

EU, IMF and European Central Bank officials have been in Dublin for the past nine days assessing whether Ireland is meeting the terms of its international bailout. The troika officials are expected to praise Ireland's deficit-fighting and bank-reform efforts at a press conference Thursday.

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Ireland's external trade, http://bit.ly/wx1Wha