New figures from the Central Statistics Office show that the value of exports rose by 2% to €89.074 billion last year compared to 2013.

The preliminary figures from the CSO reveal that imports increased by 7% to €53.590 billion - the highest level of annual imports since 2008's figure of €57.585 billion.

This resulted in a 4% fall in the overall trade surplus to €35.484 billion.

Exports of medical and pharmaceutical products grew by 5% last year, while exports of organic chemicals dropped by 2%, today's figures show. 

The CSO said that machinery and transport equipment and chemicals and related products were the main import sectors last year, and saw growth rates of 27% and 21% respectively.

The US, the UK, Belgium and Germany were the country's main export markets last year, accounting for 55% of the value of exports.

The UK, the US, Germany and China accounted for 55% of the value of imports last year, the CSO also noted.

Commenting on today's figures, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation said that while the exporting parts of the economy have seen some challenges in recent years - with the pharmaceutical patent cliff and international moves on corporation tax - all the indications have shown that the underlying performance has remained strong.

"Today’s figures are very encouraging, with goods exports showing impressive year-on-year growth. What is particularly encouraging is that they appear to be driven by sectors which we have specifically targeted, including the pharma and food areas," Minister Richard Bruton said. 

"We will continue to put in place measures to support our exporters, both multinational and Irish, to ensure that they can continue to drive our recovery and create the jobs we need in Ireland," he added.