Extra-EU trade in agricultural goods

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

This article analyses data on trade in agricultural products, concentrating on exports and imports between the European Union (EU) and all countries outside of the EU (extra-EU). In 2016, extra-EU trade in agricultural products accounted for 7.6 % of total EU-28 international trade. Data on trade in agricultural products is central for two important EU policies: the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the common trade policy, which manages trade relations with non-EU countries.

Figure 1: Extra-EU and intra-EU trade in agricultural products, EU-28, 2002-2016
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-016894)
Figure 2: Extra-EU trade in agricultural products by value and by weight, EU-28, 2002–2016
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-016894)
Figure 3: Share of agricultural products in total extra EU-28 trade in goods, 2002-2016
(%)
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-016894)
Figure 4: EU-28 Imports, exports and trade balance in agricultural products, 2002-2016
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-016894)
Figure 5: Agricultural exports and imports by animal products, vegetables and foodstuffs categories, EU-28, 2016
(EUR million; percentage)
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-016894)
Figure 6: Extra-EU exports and imports in agricultural products by product categories, EU-28, 2016
(EUR million)
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-016894)
Figure 7: Extra-EU trade in agricultural products, category animal products, EU-28, 2002–2016
(EUR million)
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-016894)
Figure 8: Extra-EU trade in agricultural products, category vegetables, EU-28, 2002–2016
(EUR million)
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-016894)
Figure 9: Extra-EU trade in agricultural products, category foodstuff, EU-28, 2002–2016
(EUR million)
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-016894)
Figure 10: Extra-EU exports and imports of agricultural products by ten main trading partners, EU-28, 2016
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-016894)
Figure 11: Extra-EU exports and imports of animal products by ten main trading partners, EU-28, 2016
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-016894)
Figure 12: Extra-EU exports and imports of vegetables by ten main trading partners, EU-28, 2016
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-016894)
Figure 13: Extra-EU exports and imports of foodstuff by ten main trading partners, EU-28, 2016
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-016894)

Main statistical findings

The total value of imports and exports of agricultural goods between the EU-28 and the rest of the world was EUR 263 billion (= EUR 263 000 million) in 2016. This monetary value corresponded to 244 million tonnes of agricultural merchandise. This analysis focuses predominantly on the data in EUR, given that the quantity of goods in tonnes would not allow for a suitable comparison between different types of produce.


Within all (extra-EU and intra-EU) EU exports and imports of agricultural commodities, the extra-EU flow of agricultural goods represents one quarter of total EU-28 trade (see Figure 1) , meaning that close to 75 % of all EU agricultural trade is carried out within the EU-28 Member States. This ratio has remained very stable from 2002 until 2016, the time series available for the EU-28 aggregate.


From 2002 to 2016, the value of all extra-EU transactions (total imports and exports in EUR) of agricultural products increased by 110 % (see Figure 2). The increase was not as significant for the volume of all transactions in tonnes, which grew by 36 %. In this period exports grew by 134 % in value and 83 % in weight. The growth for imports grew less strongly. In value they grew by 90 % while in weight the growth was only 12 %.


The share of agricultural products in total extra-EU trade grew by 0.7 points from 6.9 % in 2002 to 7.6 % in 2016. The increase was larger in exports which grew by 1.2 points from 6.3 % in 2002 to 7.5 % in 2016 than in imports which grew by 0.3 points from 7.4 % in 2002 to 7.8 % in 2016 (see Figure 3).


The drop in both imports and exports that occurred in 2009 shows the disruption of international markets during the global financial and economic crisis. In the following years EU-28 exports progressively gained importance, and the trade balance became positive for the first time in 2013 but in the following years became slightly negative again (see Figure 4).

Animals, vegetables and foodstuffs categories — EU-28

Agricultural products can be divided in three product categories: animal products, vegetables and foodstuffs (see Figure 5). Vegetable products made up slightly more than half (51 %) of EU-28 imports from extra-EU. Foodstuffs (29 %) and animal products (20 %) accounted for the other half. In exports, animal products had a similar share (21 %) as in imports but the other two categories shares were markedly different. The share of vegetables in exports (25 %) was half of that in exports while in foodstuffs (54 %) it was almost twice as high in exports as in imports.


Each of the categories discussed above can be subdivided in chapters (see figure 6). The animal products category consists of live animals, meat, fish, crustaceans and aquatic invertebrates, dairy produce, eggs, honey, and other products of animal origin. 76 % of the animal products imported in 2016 by the EU-28 (corresponding to EUR 20 billion) belonged to the chapter ‘fish, crustaceans and aquatic invertebrates’ (see Figure 5). In exports of animal products the largest chapters were ‘meat and edible meat offal‘ (37 %) and ‘dairy produce and birds' eggs‘ (36 %) each with a value of around EUR 10 billion.

Vegetable products include trees, plants, vegetables, fruit, coffee, cereals, seeds and oil. With 29 % of the vegetable products imported in 2016 by the EU-28 (corresponding to EUR 20 billion), the ‘edible fruit and nuts' chapter took the lion’s share of EU-28 vegetable imports, followed by 'coffee, tea, maté and spices' (16 %), 'oil seeds and oleaginous fruits' (15 %) and 'animal or vegetable fats and oils' (14 %). The most exported vegetable product was 'cereals' (23 % corresponding to EUR 7.6 billion) followed by 'animal or vegetable fats and oils' (17 % corresponding to EUR 5.6 billion).

Foodstuffs consist of various types of processed goods deriving from vegetable and animal products such as sugar, beverages, tobacco and prepared animal fodder. Products registered under chapter 23 — residues and waste from the food industries and prepared animal fodder — made up a quarter of the foodstuff products that were imported by the EU-28 in 2016, followed by 'cocoa and cocoa preparations' with 25 %. The most exported foodstuff, 'beverages, spirits and vinegar' had a share of 40% corresponding to EUR 28 billion.

Overall within these three categories of products - the fish and fruit chapters combined amounted to 30 % of all the agricultural imports while beverages amounted to 21 % of all agricultural exports from the EU-28 to non-EU countries.

Animals, vegetables and foodstuffs — trade balance

With the exception of 2013, in the period from 2002 to 2016 the export value of all agricultural products from the EU-28 to extra-EU countries was less than imports. However looking at the three separate categories we see three different patterns.


Until 2011, EU-28 exports of animal products in terms of monetary value were lower than EU-28 imports (see Figure 7). In 2011, animal products recorded a EUR 215 million trade surplus which grew over the next two years to EUR 2 862 million in 2013 but then fell again to EUR 907 million in 2016. From 2002 to 2016 animal products exports grew by 138 %. On the other hand, imports grew around half as much by 72 % during the same period.


Unlike animal products, there was a trade deficit for vegetable products over the whole 2002–2016 period (see Figure 8). Exports and imports both more than doubled, with exports (137 %) growing somewhat more than imports (114 %). However even though imports grew less fast than exports, due to their much larger initial value the resulting trade deficit almost doubled from EUR 16 billion in 2002 to EUR  31 billion in 2016.


In contrast to the development of EU international trade in animal products, foodstuffs showed a continuous surplus from 2002 to 2016 (see Figure 9). Not only have EU-28 exports of foodstuffs exceeded imports, but the trends also show that exports have increased at a faster rate (131 %) than imports (74 %). Consequently the trade surplus grew from EUR 6 billion in 2002 to EUR  28 billion in 2016.

Main trading partners for agricultural products

The United States was the main recipient of EU-28 exports of agricultural goods, with 16 % of the total (see Figure 10). Together with China (8 %) and Switzerland (6 %), it made up 30 % of the outflow of agricultural commodities in 2016 which was 6 % more than the next seven countries (Japan, Russia, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Canada and United Arab Emirates) combined, leaving 46 % for the rest of the world. With shares of 9 % of EU-28 imports in 2016, Brazil and the United States were the leading suppliers of agricultural products. The ten largest importers accounted for 49 % of all extra-EU imports.


The main destinations of EU-28 exports of animal products were China (17 %), the United States (9 %) and Japan (8 %) as shown in Figure 11. The next seven export destinations had shares varying between 2.0 % and 5.3 % while the rest of the world accounted for 43 %. Norway was by far the largest exporter of animal products to the EU-28, supplying 24 % of the total in 2016; 99 % of the animal products imported from Norway fell under the fish chapter, representing EUR 6.4 billion. China and New Zealand followed with 9 % and 5 % of total EU imports respectively, also mainly in the fish sector. The ten largest exporters of animal products into the EU-28 accounted for 65 % of the total.


Both in exports and in imports, the United States has the largest share in the vegetable category with 11 % and 10 % respectively (see Figure 12). Switzerland (9 %) and Norway (6 %) are the next largest export destinations for vegetable products. In 2016 the EU-28 imported almost one fifth of its vegetable products from the United States (10 %) and Brazil (9 %). For the United States the main products were from chapter 8, (fruits and related products) and chapter 12 (oil seeds and related products), while for Brazil the main products were chapter 9 (coffee, tea, mate and spices ) and, again as for the United States, chapter 12.


Foodstuffs accounted for the bulk of EU-28 exports of agricultural products. The United States was the main destination in the foodstuffs category, with 21 % of the total in 2016 (see Figure 13). This was three times as much as the share of the 2nd largest, China (7 %). Apart from Saudi Arabia, where the main imported product from the EU-28 was tobacco, the leading export products were in the 'beverages, spirits and vinegar' chapter. Brazil is the largest provider of foodstuff products to the EU-28, with 12 % of total imports in 2013. Together with Argentina (10 %) and the United States (9 %) it supplied almost one third of EU-28 imports of foodstuffs. With an 8 % share Cote d’Ivoire was the fourth largest importer; 84 % of its exports to the EU-28 were cacao which accounted for 40 % of all cacao imports into the EU-28.

Data sources and availability

Data sources

EU data comes from Eurostat’s COMEXT database. COMEXT is the Eurostat reference database for international trade in goods. It provides access not only to both recent and historical data from the EU Member States but also to statistics of a significant number of non-EU countries. International trade aggregated and detailed statistics disseminated from Eurostat website are compiled from COMEXT data according to a monthly process. Because COMEXT is updated on a daily basis, data published on the website may differ from data stored in COMEXT in case of recent revisions.

In this article, agricultural products are classified according to the sub-headings of the Combined Nomenclature (CN), based on the international classification known as the Harmonized commodity description and coding system (HS) administered by the World Customs Organization. The 24 chapters (2-digit codes) of agricultural products in the CN nomenclature are grouped into 3 major types: animal, vegetable and foodstuff products. Chapter 15 (animal or vegetable fats and oils and their cleavage products; prepared edible fats; animal or vegetable waxes) is included in vegetables.

EU data are compiled according to community guidelines and may, therefore, differ from national data published by Member States. Statistics on extra-EU trade are calculated as the sum of trade of each of the 28 Member States with countries outside the EU. In other words, the EU is considered as a single trading entity and trade flows are measured into and out of the area, but not within it.

Classifications

In international trade statistics, several classifications are used. Apart from the harmonised commodity description and coding system (HS), managed by the World Customs Organization, data on trade is also available in the United Nations’ Standard International Trade Classification (SITC revision 4) and in the Broad Economic Categories (BEC) classification, the latter using end–use categories more adapted to economic analysis.

Unit of measure

Trade values are expressed in millions (106) or in billions (109) of euros. They correspond to the statistical value, i.e. to the amount which would be invoiced in case of sale or purchase at the national border of the reporting country. It is called a FOB value (free on board) for exports and a CIF value (cost, insurance, freight) for imports.

Context

The European Union (EU) is the largest partner in international trade of agricultural products. While the EU-28 imports mostly simple unprocessed agricultural goods, exports from the European Union are principally processed food products.

Data on international trade in agriculture products is used for two of the common EU policies: the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the common trade policy which manages trade relations with non-EU countries. These are major policy areas of the European Union on which decisions are taken at Community level.

Statistics on international trade in agricultural commodities are fundamental in the evaluation and understanding of problems related to several political agendas, such as trade negotiations, food security, cooperation and aid towards developing countries and global sustainability.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Data visualisation

Main tables

International trade data (t_ext)
International trade long-term indicators (t_ext_lti)
International trade short-term indicators (t_ext_sti)

Database

International trade data (ext)
International trade long-term indicators (ext_lti)
International trade short-term indicators (ext_sti)
International trade detailed data (detail)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

Other information

Legal background

  • Regulation (EC) No 471/2009 of 6 May 2009 on Community statistics relating to external trade with non-member countries
  • Regulation (EU) No 92/2010 of 2 February 2010 implementing Regulation (EC) No 471/2009, as regards data exchange between customs authorities and national statistical authorities, compilation of statistics and quality assessment
  • Regulation (EU) No 113/2010 of 9 February 2010 implementing Regulation (EC) No 471/2009 , as regards trade coverage, definition of the data, compilation of statistics on trade by business characteristics and by invoicing currency, and specific goods or movements.

External links