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In Ireland we do not produce many avocados, cars or streaming television shows. Most of what we consume of these are imports. Avocados and cars are goods imports, and streaming TV is a service import.

On the other hand, we export a lot of meat, dairy produce, pharmaceuticals and IT services, since we produce more than we consume here.

Imports and Exports of goods that physically cross the frontier into the country are described in detail in Goods Exports and Imports but the definition in National Accounts is wider than that.

Imports into Ireland are counted when an Irish resident person or company buys from abroad, even if the purchase does not come into the country. Similarly, an Irish company can sell goods it owns in another country to a company abroad and that is still an Irish export because the ownership left Ireland, even though the goods were never here. Because of this, the total imports and exports are much greater than what passes through our territory (see Contract Manufacturing).

When Irish residents go abroad on holidays, they buy hotel and restaurant services from other countries, and this adds to Irish imports. When foreign visitors come to Ireland and spend money here, that counts as Irish exports.

Exports minus imports (called net exports) is part of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as it is calculated by the Expenditure Method: if exports are greater than imports, net exports adds to GDP; if imports exceed exports then net exports lower GDP. Thus, higher exports are usually a sign of a growing economy. Higher imports, while they reduce GDP, may in some circumstances be an indicator of a strengthening economy. In Ireland we have seen both exports and imports increasing rapidly in recent years, and the economy has generally expanded as export growth has exceeded import growth.

Exports (+) and Imports (-) (€ million, Constant Prices)

Read next: Investment Income and Property Income

A-Z of National Accounts

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