Northern Ireland Economic Trade Statistics 2021

Date published: 14 December 2022

The latest Northern Ireland Economic Trade Statistics (NIETS) (formerly known as Broad Economy Sales and Exports Statistics), which measure both the sales and purchases of goods and services by Northern Ireland businesses in the non-financial business sectors, were published today by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

Northern Ireland Economic Trade Statistics (NIETS)
Northern Ireland Economic Trade Statistics (NIETS)

The bulletin can be accessed via the NISRA website.

The main results were:       

Total sales were worth £77.1 billion in 2021

  • Total sales by NI companies increased by 13.6% (£9.2 billion) from £67.8 billion in 2020 to £77.1 billion in 2021. The is the largest value of total sales on survey record.

Total value of external sales increased by 14.5%

  • The total value of external sales by Northern Ireland (NI) companies was estimated to be worth £24.9 billion in 2021. This represents an increase of 14.5% (£3.2 billion) over the year in current prices, compared to a decrease in the previous year of 3.6%.
  • External sales are comprised of:
    • Sales to Great Britain (GB) plus
    • Exports (sales to Ireland (IE), the Rest of Europe (REU) and the Rest of the World (ROW)). ROW refers to all other destinations outside the EU, GB and NI.
  • Sales to GB increased by £1.5 billion to £12.8 billion in 2021, up 13.1% over the year.
  • Exports increased by £1.7 billion (16.0%) over the year in question, to £12.2 billion.

Ireland remains our single largest export market

  • Exports to Ireland amounted to £5.2 billion in 2021 and were noticeably higher than those to the Rest of the EU combined (£2.6 billion). Exports to Ireland increased by £1.0 billion (23.0%) in 2021.
  • Exports to the REU (EU, excluding IE) increased over the year by £0.4 billion (16.8%) to £2.6 billion.
  • Exports to the ROW (all countries outside the EU, GB and NI) increased by £0.3 billion (8.3%) over the year to £4.4 billion.

Sales within Northern Ireland increased by 13.2%

  • Sales within NI increased by £6.1 billion between 2020 and 2021 to £52.1 billion, a rise of 13.2% over the year.

Trade in Goods and Services

Sales of goods increased by 13.8% and represented two thirds of total sales

  • Sales of goods were estimated to be worth £51.3 billion in 2021. Sales of goods increased by 13.8% over the year (£6.2 billion), compared to a decrease of 6.6% the previous year. Sales of goods represented two thirds (66.6%) of total sales (£77.1 billion) in 2021.

Purchases of goods increased by 13.6% and represented four fifths of total purchases

  • Purchases of goods were estimated to be worth £33.8 billion in 2021. Purchases of goods increased by 13.6% over the year (£4.6 billion), compared to a decrease of 7.6% the previous year. Purchases of goods represented four fifths (79.6%) of total purchases in 2021 (£48.7 billion).

Sales of services increased by 13.3% and represented one third of total sales

  • Sales of services represented 33.4% of total sales (£77.1 billion) in 2021 and were estimated to be worth £25.8 billion. Sales of services increased by 13.3% over the year (£3.0 billion), compared to a decrease of 1.3% the previous year.

Purchases of services remained static and represented one fifth of total purchases

  • Purchases of services represented 20.4% of total purchases in 2021 and were estimated to be worth £9.9 billion. Purchases of services did not change over the year, compared to an increase of 2.4% the previous year.

Trade with Individual Trade Partners

Trade with Great Britain accounted for 16.6% of total sales and 29.7% of total purchases

  • Sales of goods and services to Great Britain made up 16.6% (£12.8 billion) of total sales (£77.1 billion). Of this, 61.1% (£7.8 billion) related to the sale of goods and 38.9% (£5.0 billion) to the sale of services.
  • Purchases of goods and services from GB made up 29.7% (£14.4 billion) of total purchases (£48.7 billion). Of this 85.5% (£12.3 billion) was purchases of goods and 14.5% (£2.1 billion) was purchases of services.

Trade with Ireland accounted for 6.7% of total sales and 6.3% of total purchases

  • Sales of goods and services to Ireland made up 6.7% (£5.2 billion) of total sales (£77.1 billion). Of this, 74.7% (£3.9 billion) related to the sale of goods and 25.3% (£1.3 billion) to the sale of services.
  • Purchases of goods and services from Ireland made up 6.3% (£3.1 billion) of total purchases (£48.7 billion). Of this 89.8% (£2.8 billion) related to the import of goods and 10.2% (£0.3 billion) to the import of services.

Trade with Rest of EU made up 3.4% of total sales and 5.2% of total purchases

  • Sales of goods and services to Rest of EU made up 3.4% (£2.6 billion) of total sales (£77.1 billion). Of this, 79.2% (£2.1 billion) related to the sale of goods and 20.8% (£0.5 billion) to the sale of services.
  • Purchases of goods and services from REU made up 5.2% (£2.5 billion) of total purchases (£48.7 billion). Of this 86.8% (£2.2 billion) related to the import of goods and 13.2% (£0.3 billion) to the import of services.

Trade with Rest of World made up 5.7% of total sales and 4.3% of total purchases

  • Sales of goods and services to Rest of World made up 5.7% (£4.4 billion) of total sales (£77.1 billion). Of this, 74.9% (£3.3 billion) related to the sale of goods and 25.1% (£1.1 billion) to the sale of services.
  • Purchases of goods and services from ROW made up 4.3% (£2.1 billion) of total purchases (£48.7 billion). Of this 86.2% (£1.8 billion) related to the import of goods and 13.8% (£0.3 billion) to the import of services.

Trade Balance

  • While trade balance usually refers to the difference between exports and imports, it is possible to derive a balance of trade for any domain of interest for which both sales and purchases data exist.
  • Total sales considerably exceed total purchases, by a difference of £28.4 billion. This is mainly driven by trade within NI where sales are worth £52.1 billion and purchases are worth £26.5 billion, resulting in a surplus of £25.6 billion. NI has a trade surplus (i.e., we sell more than we purchase) with IE of £2.1 billion, REU of £0.1 billion and with ROW of £2.3 billion. In contrast, NI has a trade deficit with GB of £1.7 billion (i.e., we purchase more from GB than we sell to GB).

Effect of COVID-19 and EU Exit on trade

  • The COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on the economy during 2020, due to (i) lockdown measures being introduced to mitigate its spread and (ii) prolonged periods of business closures. This should be borne in mind when considering the change in trade estimates between 2020 and 2021.
  • When the figures are viewed in the broader picture of trends observed over the past number of years, the 2021 figures broadly align with what might reasonably have been expected were it not for the impact of the pandemic in 2020.

Other Releases

NISRA will release the following publications in December 2022:

  • Research and Development Survey on 15th December.
  • Index of Production on 15th December.
  • Index of Services on 15th December.
  • Retail Sales Index on 15th December.
  • Quarterly Ports Statistics Q3 2022 on 21st December.

Notes to editors: 

1.  This release provides information on the value of trade by businesses in NI. Figures for 2021 are provisional and may be subject to revision. This information is consistent with results for the non-financial business economy published by NISRA in November 2022 (Annual Business Inquiry (ABI)).

2.  The name of the data series and publication has been changed to better reflect the breadth of trade data now published. Therefore, the Broad Economy Sales and Exports Statistics (BESES) series will now be called the Northern Ireland Economic Trade Statistics (NIETS).

3.  In response to user demand and, as a result of further work in developing a ‘Reproducible Analytical Pipeline’ (RAP) to automate the production of results, NISRA has combined the destinations-level information (typically published in December each year) with the Trade in Goods and Services Results publication (published the following April/May) into a single publication. This development has effectively reduced the previous publication timeline for the release of all data for the survey year by some six months.

4.  The full NIETS publication and associated tables can be found at the Broad Economy Sales and Exports Statistics page of the NISRA website.  

5.  Tables from this release are also available on the new NISRA Data Portal that gives users the flexibility to slice and dice datasets to create their own tables, plot interactive charts and visualise data over interactive maps.

6.  More detailed statistical information including data tables and definitions of the methodology used is available on the NISRA website.

7.  These statistics were designated as National Statistics in March 2022 following a full assessment of the Broad Economy Sales and Exports Statistics against the Code of Practice for statistics.

8.  To keep up to date with news from the Department you can follow us on the following social media channels:

9.  For media enquiries contact the Department for the Economy Press Office at pressoffice@economy-ni.gov.uk

10.  The Executive Information Service operates an out-of-hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

11.  General information regarding trade statistics can be obtained from Damian Buchanan, Economic & Labour Market Statistics Branch, on Tel: (028) 9052 9648 or at damian.buchanan@nisra.gov.uk.

12.  Follow NISRA on Twitter - @NISRA

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