Extra-EU trade in goods

Data from May 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned update: March 2018

International trade - especially the size and evolution of imports and exports - is an important indicator of the performance of the European Union (EU) economy, showing how it interacts with other countries and its status in the international economy.

This article takes a close look at recent trends in imports and exports, focusing on extra-EU trade, the main trading partners, and the most traded products.

Figure 1: Evolution of extra EU-28 trade, 2008-2016
(EUR billion) - Source: Eurostat (Comext DS-063325)
Figure 2: EU-28 trade by geographical zone, 2008 and 2016
(EUR billion) - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_maineu)
Figure 3: Main trading partners' shares of EU-28 exports, 2008-2016
(EUR billion) - Source: Eurostat (Comext DS-063325)
Figure 4: Main trading partners' shares of EU-28 imports, 2008-2016
(EUR billion) - Source: Eurostat (Comext DS-063325)
Figure 5: EU-28 exports by products group, 2008 and 2016
(%) - Source: Eurostat (Comext DS-063325)
Figure 6: EU-28 imports by products group, 2008 and 2016
(%) - Source: Eurostat (Comext DS-063325)

Main statistical findings

European Union trade in goods recovered in both imports and exports after the rapid decline of 2009, following the financial turmoil at the end of 2008. However, between 2012 and 2016 imports fell while exports grew in that period. As a result, since 2013 the EU trade balance has been positive whereas between the beginning of the series in 2002 and 2012 it had always been negative.

In 2016 about 42 % of EU imports came from Asian countries while the other European countries accounted for 22 % and North America for 20 %. The main destination for EU exports in 2016 was Asia with about one third of the total, followed by North America (28 %) and other European countries (22 %). The EU has a considerable deficit in trade with Asian countries, while the largest surplus is recorded in trade with North America.

Main EU partners

The USA has traditionally been the EU’s major trading partner in particular in exports. Although its relative significance declined between 2008 and 2013 it increased again from 2014 to 2016. Between 2008 and 2016 the US proportion of total EU exports increased from 19 % to 21 %. with a dip of 17 % between 2012 and 2014. With 14 % the US proportion of total EU imports is at the same level as in 2008 but also had a dip of 11 % in 2013. The higher growth in exports has increased the EU trade surplus with the USA from 65 billion EUR in 2008 to a record height of 122 billion EUR in 2015, before falling to 115 billion in 2016.

China has continued to increase its share in trade with the EU. Between 2008 and 2015 exports to China more than doubled. Consequently it overtook Switzerland as 2nd largest export destination in 2014. However China's 10 % share in EU exports in 2016 is still less than half the 21 % of the USA. China accounts for 20 % of EU imports in 2016, up 1 % compared to 2008. The EU's trade deficit with China reached a record of 180 billion EUR in 2015 before falling to 175 billion in 2016. The EU also had a trade deficits with Russia (46 billion EUR) but a trade surplus with Switzerland (21 billion EUR) and Turkey (11 billion EUR).

EU trade by main product groups

The EU exports mainly manufactured products: from 2008 to 2016 their share remained 83 % of total EU exports. In 2016 machinery and vehicles made up 43 % of the total exports while other manufactured goods accounted for 23 % and chemical products for 18 %. Primary products account for 13 % of total exports; the most exported products within this category are food and drink (7 %) and energy products (4 %).

The majority of EU imports are also manufactured goods. Their share in total EU imports increased from 58 % in 2008 to 69 % in 2016. The breakdown diverges from exports: machinery and vehicles and chemical products account for a smaller share while the share of other manufactured goods is similar to that for exports. The share of energy in imports has significantly decreased in recent years. In 2008 it accounted for 29 % of imports but in 2016 the share had fallen to 15 %. This decrease is closely related to the fall of the oil price in this period.

Data sources and availability

Data sources

EU data come from Eurostat’s COMEXT database. COMEXT is the Eurostat reference database for international trade. 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 third 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.

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 among Member States within it the EU.

Unit of measure

Trade values are expressed 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.


Europe is the world's largest exporter of manufactured goods and services, and is itself the biggest export market for around 80 countries. Trade is an important indicator of Europe's prosperity and place in the world, and the bloc has become deeply integrated into global markets both for the products it sources and the exports it sells.

Because the 28 Member States of the European Union share a single market and a single external border, they also have a single trade policy. Both in the World Trade Organization, where the rules of international trade are agreed and enforced, and with individual trading partners, EU Member States speak and negotiate collectively.

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)


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, figures and maps (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