New figures from the Central Statistics Office show that the value of exports decreased by €680m (8%) in March of this year compared to the same time last year to total €7.947 billion.

March saw a 9% fall in exports of medical and pharmaceutical products from the same month in 2012.

Machinery and transport equipment exports dropped by 15% and exports of petroleum and petroleum products slumped by 77%.

The value of imports also decreased by 17% to €4.129 billion, after an 85% drop in the imports of other transport equipment and a 37% decrease in medical and pharmaceutical products.

But on a seasonally adjusted basis, exports rose by 4% to €7.287 billion in March from February, while imports dropped 2% to €3.798 billion.

The CSO said that the seasonally adjusted trade surplus in March rose to €3.489 billion from €3.124 billion in February - an increase of 11%.

On an overall basis, the EU accounted for 57% of total exports, while the US was the main non-EU destination, accounting for 26% of total exports in March.

Two thirds of the value of imports came from the US, with on third coming from the UK, the CSO noted.