International trade by enterprise characteristics
- Data from November 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned update: November 2018
This article takes a look at recent European Union (EU) international trade in goods statistics from a very specific angle: the characteristics of the enterprises actively engaged in importing and exporting.
International trade in goods statistics play a vital role in the assessment of every economy. Combining them with additional information from other sources, particularly business statistics, significantly enriches them, providing a closer view of traders and their characteristics such as size, sector of economic activity or level of concentration. This allows for a deeper analysis of the impact of trade on employment, production and value added, essential in a globalised world where economies are increasingly interconnected. This first article in a series of articles on trade by enterprise characteristics focusses on the intra- and extra-EU trade by size class (in number of persons employed) of the enterprises involved in international trade in goods.
- 1 Main statistical findings
- 1.1 Large majority of enterprises are SMEs
- 1.2 Import and exports in intra-EU trade
- 1.3 Intra-EU trade at Member State level
- 1.4 Imports and exports in extra-EU trade
- 1.5 Extra-EU trade at Member State level
- 2 Data sources and availability
- 3 Context
- 4 See also
- 5 Further Eurostat information
- 6 External links
- 7 Notes
Main statistical findings
- Micro: enterprises with less than 10 persons employed
- Small: enterprises with 10 to 49 persons employed
- Medium: enterprises with 50 to 249 persons employed
- Large: enterprises with more than 250 persons employed
Together the first three size classes are known as small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
Large majority of enterprises are SMEs
In 2015, the majority of importers and exporters in the EU are SMEs and within the group of SMEs the majority are micro-sized enterprises, followed by small and then by medium enterprises. Large enterprises are a small minority of the number of enterprises but in many countries account for the largest share in trade value among the four size classes.
Table 1 shows the shares in number of enterprises and value of imports of the four employment size classes. For small and medium enterprises, shares in value and number of enterprises are clustered fairly close together. For micro-sized enterprises the shares for different countries are more spread out; two outliers, Malta and Belgium, have large shares in value. Large enterprises have a narrow range for share in number of enterprises (from 1 % for Belgium to 5 % for the Czech Republic), but a wide range in values ranging from 17 % for Cyprus to 71 % for France but more typically between 35 % and 60 %.
Table 2 is the same as Table 1 but for exporting enterprises. The general impression is the same but for each of the four size classes the values are somewhat more spread out. For the share of number of enterprises the values are between 1 % and 7 % for large enterprises, 4 % and 22 % for medium enterprises and 14 % to 34 % for small enterprises. In all three cases France had the highest share and Croatia the lowest share. For micro enterprises the situation was reversed with shares between 38 % for France and 81 % for Croatia. Here the only other countries with shares below 50 % were Romania and Luxembourg.
Import and exports in intra-EU trade
Few large traders but with large value
Large enterprises made up only 1 % of the enterprises importing from other EU Member States in 2015 while having almost half of the share in trade value (Figure 1). On the opposite side, although micro enterprises made up 75 % of the importing enterprises, their share in trade value was only 15 %. Medium enterprises represented a moderate share in the number of enterprises (close to 5 %), but they contributed more significantly to the value of imports (21 %), while for small enterprises shares in value (15 %) and number of enterprises (18 %) were fairly close. There were considerable differences in the average value of imports per enterprise which for large enterprises were eight times as high as those of medium-sized enterprises and 42 and 172 times as high as those of small and micro enterprises respectively.
Focusing on exports, the contribution of large enterprises to the total value was even higher than for imports (Figure 2). They represented only 2 % of the exporting enterprises, but recorded 55 % of the trade value. The other three groups each had lower shares in value for exports than for imports. However, the exporting enterprises share in the number of small, medium and large enterprises were bigger in exports than in imports. Only micro enterprises had a 10 percentage points (pp) smaller share (75 % in imports and 65 % in exports). As with imports, the average export value was considerably larger for large enterprises. The ratios to medium, small and micro enterprises were 10, 56 and 125 respectively. It was also the case that the average value of exports was higher than the average value of imports in all four size classes.
Intra-EU trade at Member State level
SMEs significant in small Member States
The share of SMEs in number of enterprises was higher than 97 % in all but four countries: Luxembourg (96 %), France (95 %) , Croatia (94 %) and the Czech Republic (91 %) (Figure 3). The Czech Republic was the only country where the number of micro-sized enterprises (33 %) was smaller than the number of small enterprises (35 %). Within the SMEs there were considerable differences in the shares of micro, small and medium enterprises between the Member States.
In 2015, SMEs in Latvia (85 %), Cyprus (72 %), Estonia (79 %), Lithuania (78 %) and Malta (77 %) were responsible for more than three quarters of the value of their country's imports (Figure 4). In contrast, for some large Member States, such as France (31 %), Germany (34 %), Poland (49 %) and the United Kingdom (50 %), this share was equal to or below 50 %. This was also the case in the Czech Republic (47 %) and Slovakia (48 %).
Larger enterprises more prominent in exports than imports
Figures 5 and 6 show the shares in numbers of enterprises and value of exports respectively. By comparing Figure 4 to Figure 6 we notice that for most countries the share of large enterprises in value of trade is larger in exports than in imports. This difference was highest in Ireland (68 % in exports, 28 % in imports) and Malta (43 % in exports, 23 % in imports). Only in three countries in 2015 was the share of large enterprises higher in imports than in exports. These were Belgium where large enterprises had a share of 35 % in imports but only 30 % in imports, Cyprus (12 % in exports, 18 % in imports) and the United Kingdom (49 % in exports, 50 % in imports). Cyprus and Belgium, together with Latvia (19 %) were the only three countries where the shares of large enterprises in value of exports were below 30 %. At the other extreme there were three countries where the share was equal to or above 70 %: Slovakia (70 %), Germany (74 %) and France (79 %).
Imports and exports in extra-EU trade
Larger enterprises in extra-EU trade
Compared to intra-EU trade, large enterprises had higher shares than in extra-EU trade in 2015. In importing enterprises the share in extra-EU was 3 % (compared to 1 % for intra-EU trade) (Figure 7) while in exporting enterprises it was 4 % (2 % for intra) (Figure 8). In value of imports the share was 55 % (49 % for intra-EU trade) and in value of exports it was 67 % (55 % for intra-EU trade). However, the average value of imports and exports per enterprise was smaller in extra-EU trade than in intra-EU trade, not only for large enterprises but also for medium, small and micro enterprises, although in the latter two only in exports.
Extra-EU trade at Member State level
Micro enterprises dominate imports in Belgium
In general for extra-EU imports the same patterns are found as for intra-EU imports: micro enterprises are the biggest group in numbers (Figure 9) while the large enterprises have the biggest value of imports (Figure 10). However, there are four exceptions to that latter finding. In Belgium (54 %), Malta (42 %) and Cyprus (35 %) the micro enterprises also account for the highest value in imports while in Estonia the medium enterprises (36 %) have the largest share of the four size classes. For the large enterprises the shares in value of imports vary from 12 % for Cyprus to 80 % for Slovakia while in number of enterprises the lowest shares are found in Malta and Cyprus (both 1 %) and the highest shares in Germany and Luxembourg (both 6 %).
Large enterprises dominate extra-EU exports
In 2015, in all but five Member States (Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Greece and Malta) the share for the number of large enterprises was larger in extra-EU trade than in intra-EU trade (Figure 11). It ranged from 1 % for Italy to 10 % for Luxembourg (which had only 5 % in intra-EU trade).
Large enterprises are more prevalent in exports than in imports and more prevalent in extra-EU trade than in intra-EU trade. Therefore, it is not surprising to find large enterprises dominating extra-EU exports. In value the large enterprises have a share of over 50 % in 20 countries (Figure 12) while in another four the share is between 44 % and 49 %, but still higher than in the other size classes. In comparison in extra-EU imports there were 17 Member States with a share of more than 50 %, in intra-EU exports there were 11 and in intra-EU imports only 6.
Again, as in intra-EU exports the highest shares in value were found in the largest Member States, namely Germany (83 %), France (82 %) and at some distance the United Kingdom (71 %). However Germany's top spot was shared with Slovakia (83 %) which also had a high share in the number of large enterprises (9 %) equal to that of the Czech Republic and Romania and just below that of Luxembourg (10 %).
Data sources and availability
Reporting of international trade in goods statistics by enterprise characteristics consists of a data collection independent from the monthly trade in goods statistics. This data collection has been included in the revised Intrastat (respectively Extrastat) Regulations published in 2009 that came into force for the reference year 2009 (respectively 2010) onwards.
- Intrastat Regulation: Regulation (EC) No 222/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2009 amending Regulation (EC) No 638/2004 on Community statistics relating to the trading of goods between Member States.
- Extrastat Regulation: Regulation (EC) No 471/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 May 2009 on Community statistics relating to international trade with non-member countries and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1172/95.
Until the reference year 2008, Member States were asked to compile specific indicators linking international trade in goods data and business register information on a voluntary basis.
Data are disseminated after having ensured an accurate data quality and once confidentiality issues are removed.
The compilation of trade flows by enterprise characteristics is based on linking micro-data on intra- and extra-EU trade with structural information from business registers. The trade value of each trader, by product code and partner country, is combined with the main enterprise characteristics (economic activity and number of employees) retrieved from the business registers. Only aggregated results (e.g. no micro-data) are provided to Eurostat.
Number of enterprises
The number of enterprises consists of a count of the number of enterprises involved in trade during at least a part of the reference period. For intra-EU trade, VAT data are used to estimate the number of traders and trade value of the smallest traders which are exempt from Intrastat reporting. These traders account for a very limited share of the trade value – at most 3 % of the total value by flow – but in terms of number of enterprises they consist of the majority.
Number of employees
The number of employees is defined as those persons who work for an employer and who have a contract of employment and receive compensation in the form of wages, salaries, fees, gratuities, piecework pay or remuneration in kind.
Small and medium sized enterprises are defined only according to their number of employees (enterprises with less than 250 employees); the exact definition of SMEs uses also turnover and balance sheet as criteria.
Trade balance presented in Figure 6 has been calculated as the difference between exports and imports reported by each country for total trade (i.e. considering intra- and extra-EU trade).
Enterprises are classified according to the Statistical Classification of Economic Activities in the European Community, Rev. 2 (NACE Rev. 2). For detailed information, please refer to ‘Ramon’, Eurostat’s Classification Server: http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/ramon
For the reference year 2010, Regulation (EC) No 177/2008 of the European Parliament and the Council of 20 February 2008, establishing a common framework for Statistical Business Registers was the legal basis for business registers.
The statistical unit to be used is the enterprise which is defined in the Council Regulation (EEC) No 696/1993 as the smallest combination of legal units that is an organisational unit producing goods or services, which benefits from a certain degree of autonomy in decision-making, especially for the allocation of its current resources. Trade data that are generally collected and registered by declaring unit (identified by VAT code in intra-EU trade and by customs identification code in extra-EU trade) must be connected to characteristics available in the Business Register for the whole enterprise concerned.
International trade in goods statistics play a vital role in the assessment of every economy. Combined with additional information on characteristics of enterprises involved in international trade, such as the size and the sector of economic activity, trade data are significantly enhanced. Generally speaking, trade statistics show movements of goods between countries by goods categories. However, they do not provide explicit information on the businesses which are behind these trade flows. In a globalised world where economies are increasingly interconnected, it is more and more important to know traders and their characteristics. Answering this question requires linking trade statistics with other sources, and particularly with business statistics, which describe the structure and evaluation of the activities of businesses.
'International trade in goods by enterprise characteristics' is a new statistical domain, which unlike traditional trade statistics, aims at describing the structure of trade by characteristics of the trading enterprises, for instance by their economic activities, their size or concentration of trade. It is based on linking trade micro-data with business register information, allowing a deeper analysis of the impact of trade on employment, production and value added.
Statistics on trade in goods by enterprise characteristics are compiled by linking intra- and extra-EU trade micro-data with business register data, and are available for trade value and number of enterprises for five indicators.
- Trade by economic activity and enterprise size class: trade by activity sector and employment size class shows the contributions of economic activities and size classes (measured in terms of number of employees) to total trade. This allows analysis of the impact of external trade on employment and estimation of the importance of small and medium-sized enterprises.
- Concentration of trade by economic activity: external trade being typically concentrated on a few enterprises, this indicator shows the share of the total trade accounted for by the top 5, 10, 20, etc. enterprises.
- Trade by partner country and economic activity: trade by partner countries shows how many enterprises were trading with certain partner countries or country zones, and the value they accounted for. This enables identification of most typical export or import markets.
- Trade by number of partner countries and economic activity: trade by number of partner countries shows how geographically diversified the export markets are. For imports, it shows the number of countries from which goods are imported.
- Trade by commodity and economic activity: trade by commodity and activity sector allocates the trade of each commodity to the activity of the trading enterprise. This shows which sectors were involved in trading of each product group.
From the reference year 2008 onwards, the activity sector is broken down by NACE Rev. 2 division (2-digit level) for sections C (Manufacturing) and G (Trade) and by section level for other activities. The size classes in terms of number of employees are: 0-9, 10-49, 50 249, 250 or more and Unknown. These indicators are available separately for intra- and extra-EU trade.
Confidentiality is applied in the statistics disseminated to ensure that it is not possible to identify an enterprise or a trader.
- Extra-EU trade in goods
- Extra-EU trade in manufactured goods
- Extra-EU trade in primary goods
- International trade in goods
Further Eurostat information
- International trade in goods (ext_go), see:
- International trade in goods - trade by enterprise characteristics (TEC) (ext_tec)
Methodology / Metadata
- User guide on European statistics on international trade in goods
- Compilers guide on European statistics on international trade in goods by enterprise characteristics (TEC)
- Regulation (EC) No 222/2009 of 11 March 2009 amending Regulation (EC) No 638/2004 on Community statistics relating to the trading of goods between Member States
- Regulation (EC) No 471/2009 of 6 May 2009 on Community statistics relating to international trade with non-member countries and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1172/95