Extra-EU trade in agricultural goods
Data extracted in April 2018.
Planned update: April 2019
In 2017, trade in agricultural products between the EU and non-member countries accounted for 7.4 % of total EU international trade
Between 2002 and 2017, EU trade in agricultural products doubled, equivalent to an average annual growth of 5.4 %
EU-28 exports, imports and trade balance of agricultural products, 2002-2017
This article analyses data on trade in agricultural products, concentrating on exports and imports between the European Union (EU) and all countries outside the EU (extra-EU). In 2017, extra-EU trade in agricultural products accounted for 7.4 % of the 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.
EU trade in agricultural products: slight deficit
The value of trade (imports plus exports) of agricultural goods between the EU-28 and the rest of the world was EUR 275 billion in 2017. It is almost evenly divided between exports at EUR 137 billion, 49.8 %, and imports at EUR 138 billion, 50.2 %. Thus there was only a small trade deficit of around 1 billion Euro. Between 2002 and 2017, trade measured in value more than doubled, equivalent to an average annual growth of 5.4 %, with exports (6.2 %) growing faster than imports (4.7 %).
The volume of this trade shows that in 2017 the EU-28 imported 143 million tonnes of agricultural products while it exported only 101 million tonnes. Between 2002 and 2017 the total trade volume had an average annual growth rate of 2.1 %. Here too, exports (3.5 %) grew faster than imports (1.2 %). The average annual increase in prices for exports (2.6 %) was lower than for imports (3.4 %) thus the ratio between export and import prices was reduced from 1.6 in 2002 to 1.4 in 2017.
Agricultural products: 3 main groups
Agricultural products can be subdivided into three main groups: animal products, vegetable products and foodstuffs (Figure 3). In exports, the largest group, with 56 %, is foodstuffs, while with 22 % vegetable and animal products have equal shares. In imports, the largest group, with 48 %, is vegetable products, followed by foodstuffs (32 %) and animal products (20 %).
Each of the categories discussed above can be subdivided into chapters (Figure 4). The animal products category consists of live animals, meat, fish, crustaceans and aquatic invertebrates, dairy produce, eggs, honey, and other products of animal origin. In exports of animal products, the largest chapters were ‘dairy produce and birds' eggs‘ (38 %, EUR 11 billion) and ‘meat and edible meat offal‘ (35 %, EUR 10 billion). In imports the largest chapter was ‘fish, crustaceans and aquatic invertebrates’ with 76 % corresponding to EUR 21 billion.
Vegetable products include trees, plants, vegetables, fruit, coffee, cereals, seeds and oil. The most exported vegetable products were 'cereals' (20 %, EUR 6 billion) closely followed by 'animal or vegetable fats' (19.5 %, EUR 6 billion) . The ‘edible fruit and nuts' chapter had the largest share of imports of vegetable products (31 %, EUR 20 billion).
Foodstuffs consist of various types of processed goods deriving from vegetable and animal products such as sugar, beverages, tobacco and prepared animal fodder. The most exported foodstuff, 'beverages, spirits and vinegar' had a share of 39 % corresponding to EUR 30 billion. Products registered under chapter 23 — 'residues and waste from the food industries; prepared animal fodder' made up 22 % of foodstuff imports equivalent to EUR 10 billion.
Animal products, vegetable products and foodstuffs: trade balance
With the exception of 2013, in the period from 2002 to 2017 the export value of all agricultural products from the EU-28 to extra-EU countries was slightly lower than the value of 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 5). In 2011, animal products recorded a EUR 215 million trade surplus which fluctuated in the following years, reaching 2.7 billion in 2017. In 2017 animal products exports were 2.5 times as big as in 2002, equivalent to an annual average growth rate of 6.6 %. In the same period the average annual growth rate of imports was 3.9 %.
Unlike animal products, there was a trade deficit for vegetable products over the whole 2002–2017 period (see Figure 6). Exports and imports both more than doubled. Their average annual growth rates were 5.8 % and 5.7 % respectively. This meant that the trade deficit also more than doubled from EUR 16 billion in 2002 to EUR 36 billion in 2017.
In contrast to the development of EU international trade in animal products, foodstuffs showed a continuous surplus from 2002 to 2017 (see Figure 7). Not only have EU-28 exports of foodstuffs exceeded imports, but the trends also show that exports have increased at a faster average annual rate (6.2 %) than imports (3.8 %). Consequently the trade surplus grew from EUR 6 billion in 2002 to EUR 33 billion in 2017.
Main trading partners for agricultural products: USA ahead
The United States was the main recipient of EU-28 exports of agricultural goods, with 16 % of the total (see Figure 8). It was followed by China (8 %), Switzerland (6 %), Japan, Russia (both 5 %) and Norway (4 %). Brazil and the United States (both 8 %) were the main origins of agricultural imports. They were followed by Norway, China (both 5 %), Argentina and Ukraine (both 4 %). Both China and the United States appear in the top four for both export and import partners. For the United States this is also the case for each of the three product groups discussed below.
The main destinations of EU-28 exports of animal products were China (15 %), the United States (9 %) and Japan (8 %) as shown in Figure 9. Norway was by far the largest exporter of animal products to the EU-28, supplying 24 % of the total in 2017; 99 % of the animal products imported from Norway fell under the fish chapter, representing EUR 6.4 billion. China followed with 9 % (EUR 2.5 billion), also mainly in the fish chapter.
Both in exports and in imports, the United States had the largest share for vegetable products in 2017 with 12 % and 10 % respectively (see Figure 12). With 9 %, Switzerland was the next largest export destination for vegetable products, while Brazil with 8 % followed the United States as second largest partner for imports.
Foodstuffs accounted for the bulk of EU-28 exports of agricultural products. The United States was the main destination in the foodstuffs category, with 20 % of the total in 2017 (see Figure 11). Brazil (12 %) and Argentina (9 %) were the largest import partners for foodstuffs to the EU-28.
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.
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.
Source data for tables and graphs
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.
- International trade data (t_ext)
- International trade long-term indicators (t_ext_lti)
- International trade short-term indicators (t_ext_sti)
- International trade data (ext)
- International trade long-term indicators (ext_lti)
- International trade short-term indicators (ext_sti)
- International trade detailed data (detail)
- International trade in goods statistics - background
- International trade in goods (ESMS metadata file — ext_go_agg_esms)
- User guide on European statistics on international trade in goods
- 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.