Culture statistics - international trade in cultural goods

Data extracted in January 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: January 2018.

Statistics on international trade in cultural goods enable the monitoring of the value of international exchanges of these goods and show the weight of cultural trade in the whole EU international trade.

This article analyses the data from 2008 to 2015 and presents the following information pertaining to international trade in cultural goods:

  • export and import values in absolute and in relative terms (EUR million and % of total trade);
  • extra-EU and intra-EU trade;
  • the type of cultural goods traded;
  • the EU’s main trading partners.

This article is an update of the 2016 version which was part of the online publication on Culture statistics.

Table 1: Extra-EU trade in cultural goods, EU-28, 2008 and 2015
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prd)
Figure 1: Annual average growth rate of exports of cultural goods, 2008–15
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prd)
Figure 2: Annual average growth rate of imports of cultural goods, 2008–15
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prd)
Figure 3: Exports of cultural goods as a percentage of total exports, 2008 and 2015
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prd)
Figure 4: Imports of cultural goods as a percentage of total imports, 2008 and 2015
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prd)
Figure 5: Extra-EU and intra-EU exports of cultural goods, 2015
(% of total exports of cultural goods)
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prd)
Figure 6: Extra-EU and intra-EU imports of cultural goods, 2015
(% of total imports of cultural goods)
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prd)
Table 2: Exports of cultural goods by group of products, 2015
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prd)
Table 3: Imports of cultural goods by group of products, 2015
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prd)
Figure 7: Ten main partners in the extra EU-28 exports of cultural goods, 2008 and 2015
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prt)
Figure 8: Ten main partners in the extra EU-28 imports of cultural goods, 2008 and 2015
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prt)

Main statistical findings

Cultural trade 2008–2015, at EU and national levels

‘Cultural goods’ are the products of artistic creativity that convey artistic, symbolic and aesthetic values; examples are antiques, works of art, books, newspapers, photos, films and music. The category includes CDs, DVDs and video games and consoles, as media enabling access to cultural content. It also includes musical instruments, which are not cultural goods in themselves but represent means of artistic expression. 'Cultural goods' exclude products of large scale manufacturing even if they facilitate access to cultural content (e.g. TV sets or CD players).

Cultural goods do not penetrate markets and are not consumed by households in the same way as other more common products of mass consumption. Cultural group is also very heterogeneous as concerns the volumes or values of its traded products. There is much lower demand for embroidery, maps, and architectural plans and drawings, for example, than for CDs and DVDs. The differences in consumption characteristics of cultural goods, the structure of the industrial production and its specialisation in different Member States have an impact on patterns of imports and exports of cultural goods.

In EU international trade statistics, the term ‘goods’ means all movable property, i.e. products having a physical and tangible dimension. International trade in licenses and copyrights is therefore not included.

Please note that EU figures presented here exclude intra-EU trade. In other words, the EU is deemed to be a single entity and internal exchanges (between Member States) are not counted. However, national figures refer to both intra- and extra-EU trade.

EU cultural trade - from deficit to surplus

The EU’s cultural goods trade balance switched from a trade deficit of EUR 2 068 million in 2008 to a trade surplus of EUR 2 786 million in 2015, which meant an increase in the export/import ratio from 0.8 to 1.2 (see Table 1). This change was the result of an increase in exports (from EUR 10 535 million to EUR 14 926 million) and a stagnation in imports (EUR 12 603 million in 2008 and EUR 12 140 million in 2015).

While the overall annual average growth rate (AAGR) was + 5.1 % for exports and – 0.5 % for imports, a breakdown by product reveals various trends. Between 2008 and 2015, growth rates were positive in both exports and imports for works of art, antiques, musical instruments, photographic plates and film and maps. Works of art with 12 % of yearly growth of exports since 2008 was in 2015 one of the largest contributors to the general improvement of the cultural goods trade balance.

As regards newspapers, journals and periodicals and CDs, DVDs and gramophone records, despite the trade surplus, the AAGR between 2008 and 2015 was negative for both exports and imports. Films, video games and consoles also recorded a substantial fall in both trade flows. For example in 2015, the import values of CDs, DVDs and gramophone records and films, video games and consoles accounted respectively for less than half (– 58 %) and less than one third (– 32 %) of the 2008 values. This falling trend in exports and imports reflects changes in support media for cultural content, which is increasingly available in digital form via the internet. In the case of books, exports increased while imports slightly decreased. Two categories of cultural goods displayed opposite tendency: exports of embroidery and knitted or crocheted fabrics and architectural plans and drawings decreased but imports grew. Architectural plans and drawings saw a quite strong decrease in exports by 15 % a year on average since 2008 and 4 % of yearly increase in imports which resulted in significant shift in the export/import ratio from 56 in 2008 to 14 in 2015. This ratio for architecture plans and drawings remained still in 2015 the highest export/import ratio among all the traded cultural products.

Uneven trends in cultural trade at country level: from two-digit increase to two-digit fall

The analysis of time series for imports and exports of cultural goods in 2008–15 at country level reveals trends from a two-digit increase to a two-digit fall. Twelve EU Member States recorded a positive AAGR in exports. Luxembourg and Poland had the highest cultural export AAGRs (+ 26 % and + 20 % respectively) between 2008 and 2015 (see Figure 1). In Luxembourg, exports grew from around EUR 50 million in 2008 to around EUR 240 million in 2015 substantially due to increase in transaction values of works of art.

Among the falling rates in cultural exports in 2008–15, the figures for Ireland, Cyprus and Finland are outliers, diminishing respectively by – 18 %, – 17 % and – 12 % a year. In Ireland, the overall decrease was due to the drop affecting CDs, DVDs and gramophone records. In Cyprus the main cause was the drop in exports of books and in Finland the fall was made by the substantial decrease in trade of newspapers, journals and periodicals. AAGRs for the remaining 13 EU Member States ranged from – 6 % in Belgium to a more stable – 0.7 % in Denmark.

The AAGR of Poland’s cultural imports (+ 20 %) was by far the highest rate in the EU (in large part due to a big increase in the films, video games and consoles and CDs, DVDs and gramophone records) (see Figure 2). The AAGR was positive in only four other EU Member States: Lithuania, Malta, Slovenia and Estonia. Cyprus, which had the second lowest AAGR for exports, registered the steepest fall for imports (– 10 % per year), which affected 8 out of 11 groups of cultural goods. Greece and Hungary were two other Member States with a significant decrease in their cultural imports AAGRs (around – 9 %).

Many factors may have led to the fall in imports of cultural goods. The economic crisis, the digital shift for many support media and challenges created by new technologies, certainly affected the cultural consumption patterns and in consequence the composition of the basket of imports.

Contribution of cultural trade to overall trade

Despite the growth in values, the extra-EU exports in cultural goods still account for quite a low proportion of total extra-EU exports (0.80 % in 2008 to 0.83 % in 2015).

As regards (intra- and extra-EU) exports at country level, the great majority of EU Member States (23) saw their cultural exports decrease as a proportion of total exports between 2008 and 2015 (see Figure 3). However, five countries (the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Poland, Latvia and Estonia) witnessed an increase of the relative values of their cultural exports —  and also of their absolute values (see Figure 1).

For the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Poland and Latvia the proportion of cultural exports in 2015 was above the EU average, with the United Kingdom ranking top at 2.4 %. Cyprus, Ireland, Bulgaria and Finland stood out as seeing the biggest relative reductions in cultural exports between 2008 and 2015, with the percentages falling by at least half.

At EU level, cultural goods made up 0.7 % of total extra-EU imports in 2015 compared to 0.8 % in 2008 (see Figure 4). Poland and Croatia were the only EU Member States for which the weight of cultural imports in overall imports (intra-EU and extra-EU) was greater in 2015 than in 2008. Poland was also among the EU Member States that recorded an increase in imports in terms of absolute values (the others were Estonia, Lithuania, Malta and Slovenia). But the biggest proportion of cultural imports in total imports was recorded in the United Kingdom (1.02 %). Only three more countries registered shares slightly above the overall EU level (0.7 %): the Netherlands, Austria and Poland. The country for which cultural goods made up the lowest percentage of total imports was Hungary, with 0.15 %.

Intra- and extra-EU trade

In 2015, EU trade in cultural goods was mainly intra-EU

EU trade can be analysed from two perspectives: as intra-EU trade (between EU Member States) and extra-EU trade (with non EU countries). The ratio between the two is an indication of the heterogeneity of a country’s trade patterns and, to some extent, reflects its historical ties and geographical location. However, the indicator on intra- and extra-EU trade must be interpreted with caution, in particular for the phenomenon of quasi-transit (with particular relevance for some countries, e.g. the Netherlands).

In 2015, 52 % of the Member States’ cultural exports went to other EU countries, while 48 % were extra-EU exports (see Figure 5). In the case of Bulgaria, Poland, Slovakia, Malta and Luxembourg, at least 90 % of cultural exports stem from the trade with EU partners. In the United Kingdom, France, Sweden and Portugal however, extra-EU exports exceeded intra-EU exports.

Similarly, as regards imports of cultural goods, intra-EU trade (54 %) exceeded extra-EU trade (see Figure 6). Extra-EU imports predominated in only two EU Member States: the Netherlands (85 %) [1] and the United Kingdom (78 %). In all the other EU Member States, the proportion of intra-EU cultural imports was over 60 %, ranging from 62 % in Germany to 96 % in Luxembourg.

All EFTA countries reported that the EU was their most important partner in terms of cultural imports, with shares of over 50 % of total imports. In the candidate countries for which 2015 data were available [2], this was the case only in Serbia.

EU trade in cultural goods by product

Nearly half of extra-EU exports of cultural goods related to works of art

In 2015, works of art (which include paintings, engravings, designs and sculptures) were the leading category in extra-EU exports of cultural goods (49 %). Together, works of art, books and antiques made up almost 80 % of extra-EU cultural exports. On the other hand, photographic plates and films, maps and architectural plans and drawings each accounted for less than 1 % (see Table 2).

When one looks at trade (intra- and extra-EU) of various categories of cultural goods at country level, it appears that certain EU Member States developed particular specialisations [3]. Works of art were the main cultural goods exported from Luxembourg (94 %), the United Kingdom (52 %) and France (35 %). Books were the leading category of cultural exports from 16 EU Member States, accounting for over 50 % in Spain, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Slovenia. Estonia, Croatia and Finland exported mostly newspapers, journals and periodicals. Italy had the highest proportion of cultural exports in the category of knitted or crocheted fabrics, embroidery and tapestries. Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden recorded the highest proportions in films, video games and consoles, with the Netherlands ranking top at 59 % (see footnote 1). Finally, Cyprus and Austria distinguished with the highest shares in exports of CDs, DVDs and gramophone records.

As for other minor groups of products, like antiques or musical instruments, the former accounted for the biggest proportion of total cultural exports in Austria (13 % of all cultural goods) and the latter in Romania (16 %).

More even distribution of extra-EU imports by product

The main categories of EU imports of cultural products from non-EU countries were films, video games and consoles (31 %), works of art (22 %) and books (16 %). These three categories together made up 69 % of the total extra-EU imports (see Table 3).

As concerns the Member States’ (intra- and extra-EU) import patterns, they appeared to be a bit different compared to export patterns. Books were still the most traded category in 11 Member States, but 9 countries mostly imported films, video games and consoles while in 6 others the highest import values stem from the imports of knitted and crocheted fabrics, embroidery and tapestries. The United Kingdom had the most imports of works of art (31 %) mirroring the export trends. CDs, DVDs and gramophone records accounted for the biggest shares in Poland (32 %), and newspapers, journals and periodicals in Portugal (27 %).

Main EU partners in cultural trade

The Unites States is the leading extra-EU export market for cultural products

As regards extra EU partners of cultural exports, two fifths were earmarked for the United States in 2015. Together, the United States and Switzerland accounted for 60 % of EU exports to non-EU countries (see Figure 7), mostly in the works of art category. Trade with the United States became even more significant between 2008 and 2015 (increasing from 27 % to 41 %), while the percentage for Switzerland slightly dropped (from 22 % to 19 %). Between 2008 and 2015, the top 10 destinations for EU cultural exports (in which China replaced South Africa) increased their share from close to 75 % to 81 % of the total. The proportion going to Hong Kong rose considerably — from 2 % in 2008 to 7 % in 2015.

Import  — China the biggest EU partner but losing importance

The highest proportion of extra-EU imports of cultural goods in 2015 was from China (mostly films, video games and consoles), although this proportion decreased from 52 % in 2008 to 40 % in 2015 (see Figure 8). China was followed by the United States, whose share increased from 22 % in 2008 to 29 % in 2015 (mostly made up of works of art). Singapore (which had been ranked eighth biggest source of imports of cultural goods in 2008) disappeared from the top 10 rankings in 2015 and was replaced by Canada. Overall, sources of imports were more concentrated than destinations of exports: in 2015, the EU’s top 10 partners accounted for 94 % of its cultural imports.

Data sources and availability

Eurostat compiles data on international trade in cultural goods from its Comext database, which contains statistics on international trade in goods for the EU Member States, EFTA countries and candidate countries.

Comext database includes statistics on international trade in tangible goods. ‘Goods’ means all movable property (including gas and electricity). They are classified according to several product classifications, which allows comparisons at EU and also at wider international level. Among the most commonly used classifications are the Harmonized System (HS) and the Combined Nomenclature (CN). The HS is specifically created for international trade purposes and uses six-digit product codes at the lowest level. The CN classification is designed to meet the needs of EU international trade statistics. It extends to eight-digit codes, of which the first six digits are identical to those in the HS.

The list of internationally traded cultural goods was established on the basis of HS and CN classifications and according to the criteria set out in the ESSnet-Culture final report (2012). In the process of selection of cultural goods, numerous HS and CN codes at the lowest level of disaggregation were identified within the 10 cultural domains specified in the ESSnet-Culture report (see methodology/metadata section). The central selection criterion was ‘artistic creation’. For the sake of consistency and in order to facilitate analysis of trends, the cultural goods were aggregated into 11 meaningful groups. The detailed list of cultural aggregates can be found in Annex 1 to Metadata on international trade in cultural goods.

The dimensions available in Comext database allow for the computation of the following indicators on imports and exports of cultural goods for declaring EU Member States, EFTA countries and candidate countries:

  • value of trade in thousands of euros (THS);
  • percentage of country’s total trade (PC_TOT);
  • percentage of total EU-28 trade (PC_EU28);
  • percentage of total trade in cultural goods (PC).


Culture is one of Europe’s greatest strengths: it is a source of values, identity and a sense of belonging. It also contributes to people’s well-being, to social cohesion and inclusion. The cultural and creative sectors are a driver of economic growth, job creation and external trade.

That is why culture is becoming increasingly important at EU level. In accordance with article 167 of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU ‘shall contribute to the flowering of the cultures of the Member States, while respecting their national and regional diversity and at the same time bringing the common heritage to the fore’.

The EU supports these objectives through the Creative Europe programme, as well as a number of policy actions set out in the Work Plan for Culture (2015–2018). This Work Plan, adopted by EU Culture Ministers in December 2014, sets out the main priorities for European cooperation in cultural policy-making: inclusive and accessible culture, the promotion of cultural heritage, support to the flowering of the cultural and creative sectors, and the promotion of cultural diversity and of culture in EU external relations.

The production of reliable, comparable and up-to-date cultural statistics, which are the basis of sound cultural policy-making, are also a cross-sectorial priority of this Work Plan.

Eurostat compiles culture statistics from several data collections conducted at EU level to provide policy-makers and other users with information on the main trends in employment, business, international trade, participation and consumption patterns in the field of culture.

Statistics on international trade in cultural goods allow us to assess the value of cultural goods traded between EU Member States (intra-EU trade) and between Member States and non-EU countries (extra-EU trade), and the impact of such trade in overall international trade.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Data visualisation



International trade in cultural goods (cult_trd)
Intra and extra-EU trade in cultural goods by product (cult_trd_prd)
Intra and extra-EU trade in cultural goods by product and partner (cult_trd_prt)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Cultural field in the ESSnet-Culture report

Figure 9: Cultural goods according to cultural domains

The ESSnet-Culture final report (2012) creates a framework for culture statistics on the basis of cultural ‘activities’, which are intersections between ten cultural domains and six economic functions. Trade is an important aspect of the dissemination of culture and one of the six economic functions (together with creation, production/publishing, preservation, education and management/regulation).

Eurostat analysed ten cultural domains from a 'product perspective' in order to establish a list of internationally traded cultural goods. The analysis focused firstly on ‘artistic creation’, so it included products that convey and encompass symbolic, aesthetic, artistic and spiritual values (e.g. works of art or crafts). It also includes some products that do not meet the ‘artistic creation’ criterion, but enable artistic expression or access to cultural content (e.g. musical instruments, CDs and DVDs). Equipment in the wider sense (e.g. TV sets, CD players, cameras) is excluded.

On the basis of these criteria, cultural goods and products were identified in seven domains (see Figure 9).

The impact of quasi-transit (the ‘Rotterdam effect’)

A Member State’s trade flows may be overvalued because of ‘quasi-transit’ trade. The country’s trade balance is not impacted, as the quasi-transit should increase by the same amount as the intra- and extra-EU trade flows (extra-EU imports followed by dispatches to the Member State of actual destination or arrivals from the Member State of actual export followed by extra-EU exports to the country of actual destination). Quasi-transit is known to impact mostly the Member States with big ports at the external EU border, in particular the Netherlands (hence its impact on figures is known as the ‘Rotterdam effect’). In line with Community rules and as the country where goods are released for free circulation, the Netherlands records goods arriving in Dutch ports and destined for other EU Member States as extra-EU imports and as intra-EU export dispatches them from the Netherlands to those Member States, even though there is no impact on its economy. Quasi-transit is known to affect imports more, but exports are also affected. In exceptional cases, customs clearance occurs not in the Member State of actual export but in the Member State from which the goods leave EU customs territory.

Source data for tables, figures and maps (MS Excel)

Other information

External links


  1. The high ranking of the Netherlands is due to the impact of quasi-transit of goods, i.e. the ‘Rotterdam effect’ affecting Member States with big ports at the EU’s external border (see the ‘Methodology/metadata’ section for more details).
  2. Data for Albania not available.
  3. The exports and imports by EU Member State include all of the world’s countries as trading partners (including the other EU Member States) so the figures by country in Tables 2 and 3 are not the breakdown of the EU aggregates which only relate to extra-EU trade.