Modern Economy

Ireland's joining of the European Union (EU) in 1973 accelerated economic development in both agriculture and industry. Economic prosperity has followed, with Ireland's gross national product (GNP) per head rising from 62% of the EU average in 1980 to 85% in 1998, with some projections suggesting equality by 2003 (5). Factors involved are external, such as trade access to the single EU market and EU structural fund transfers, and internal, such as consistent macroeconomic policy, major investment in education, and industrial strategy. The latter has involved concentration on selected industrial sectors, such as information technology, financial services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and food.

With economic development, primary agriculture has been a declining sector, with its share of gross domestic product (GDP) falling to 5.2% in 1998. The overall agrifood sector is still of major importance in the economy, however, accounting for nearly 13% of GDP in 1998 (6). Furthermore, the low import content of food exports means that the share of the agrifood sector in net foreign earnings is nearly 33% (ie, foreign earnings adjusted for imports of materials and repatriation of profits by foreign-owned companies). Agricultural employment has correspondingly fallen to about 9% of the total. Although the food industry is still dominated by meat and dairy products, advanced food ingredients and consumer products sectors have also emerged. The drinks sector is also very strong with global brands such as Guinness and Bailey's. The food industry is strongly export oriented with about half of all food man ufacture being exported. Food industry structure has also changed rapidly, being dominated by about 10 leading companies that have expanded rapidly through merger and foreign direct investment, primarily in the UK, the EU, and the United States.

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