The value of exports fell by 17% in August from a year earlier to €7.6 billion, new Central Statistics Office figures show today.

The CSO figures show that the exports of organic chemicals and medical and pharmaceutical products were the main reason for the 17% fall due to a number of drugs manufactured here coming off patent.

The value of imports rose by 1% to €3.9 billion in August on a yearly basis, with imports of petroleum and related products jumping by 32%.

Today's figures show that the EU accounted for 56% of total exports in August. The US was the main non-EU destination and accounted for 21% of total exports during the month.

The EU was also the source of 64% of the value of imports, with 31% coming from the UK. The US with 11% and China with 8% were the main non-EU sources of imports.

Preliminary figures for August show a 4% increase in seasonally adjusted exports in August from July. Seasonally adjusted imports rose by 7%, which the CSO said resulted in a 1% increase in the seasonally adjusted trade surplus to €3.245 billion.

Commenting on today's figures, Merrion economist Alan McQuaid said that the export sector has been the main driver of Irish economic activity in recent times and will remain the key growth engine for some period to come.

He said that weak global demand has hit Irish exports in the past couple of years, particularly on the merchandise goods side.

"But there are signs now that the world economy (including the key markets of the United States, euro zone and UK) is starting to recover, which augurs well for Irish exports in the coming months. This should to some degree help offset the negative drag from the patents issue," the economist added.