International trade in goods

Data from September 2017 (part "Main global players for international trade in goods") and March 2017 (rest of the article). Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: March 2018.


This article discusses the development of the European Union’s (EU) international trade in goods. It considers the EU’s share in world import and export markets, intra-EU trade (trade between EU Member States), the EU’s main trading partners, and the EU’s most widely traded product categories.

The EU-28 accounts for around 15 % of the world’s trade in goods. The value of international trade in goods significantly exceeds that of services (by about three times), reflecting the nature of some services which makes them harder to trade across borders.

Figure 1: Main players for international trade in goods, 2016
(billion EUR)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introle) and (ext_lt_intercc)
Figure 2: Cover ratio for international trade in goods, 2006 and 2016
(%)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introle) and (ext_lt_intercc)
Figure 3: Trade balance for international trade in goods, 2006 and 2016
(billion EUR)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introle) and (ext_lt_intercc)
Figure 4: Shares in the world market for exports of goods, 2016
(% share of world exports)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introle)
Figure 5: Shares in the world market for imports of goods, 2016
(% share of world imports)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introle)
Figure 6: Development of international trade in goods, EU-28, 2006–2016
(billion EUR)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intertrd)
Figure 7: Extra EU-28 trade in goods, 2016
(% share of EU-28 exports/imports)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intratrd)
Figure 8: Intra EU-28 trade in goods, 2016
(% share of EU-28 dispatches/arrivals)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intratrd)
Figure 9: Intra and extra EU-28 trade in goods, 2016
(imports plus exports, % share of total trade)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intratrd)
Figure 10: Extra EU-28 trade in goods by main trading partners, EU-28, 2006 and 2016
(billion EUR)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_maineu)
Figure 11: Main trading partners for exports of goods, EU-28, 2016
(% share of extra EU-28 exports)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_maineu)
Figure 12: Main trading partners for imports of goods, EU-28, 2016
(% share of extra EU-28 imports)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_maineu)
Figure 13: Extra EU-28 trade by main products, EU-28, 2011 and 2016
(billion EUR)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intertrd)
Figure 14: Main exports by product, EU-28, 2011 and 2016
(% share of extra EU-28 exports)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intratrd)
Figure 15: Main imports by product, EU-28, 2011 and 2016
(% share of extra EU-28 imports)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intratrd)
Figure 16: Main exports and imports by product, EU-28, 2016
(% share of extra EU-28 exports/imports)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intratrd)

Main statistical findings

Main global players for international trade in goods

The EU-28, China and the United States have been the three largest global players for international trade (see Figure 1) since 2004 when China passed Japan. In 2016, the total level of trade in goods (exports and imports) recorded for the EU-28, China and the United States was almost identical, peaking at EUR 3 455 billion in the EU-28 (note this does not include intra-EU trade), which was EUR 109 billion higher than for China and EUR 125 billion above the level recorded for the United States; Japan had the fourth highest level of trade in goods, at EUR 1 131 billion.

In 2016, the ratio of exports to imports (the cover ratio) was particularly high in favour of exports for Russia, Brazil and China (see Figure 2), while in absolute terms China and Russia have had the largest annual trade surpluses since 2006; in 2016, the United States had the largest deficit (see Figure 3), continuing a pattern that has been apparent over the whole of the last decade for which data are available.

Looking at the flows of exports and imports, the EU-28 had the second largest share of global exports and imports of goods (see Figures 4 and 5) in 2016: the EU-28’s exports of goods were equivalent to 15.6 % of the world total, and in 2014 were surpassed for the first time since the EU was founded by those of China (16.1 % in 2014, rising to 17.0 % in 2016), but still ahead of the United States (11.8 %); the United States had a larger share of world imports (17.6 %) than either the EU-28 (14.8 %) or China (12.4 %).

Extra-EU trade in goods

EU-28 international trade in goods with the rest of the world (the sum of extra-EU exports and imports) was valued at EUR 3 453 billion in 2016 (see Figure 6). Both imports and exports were marginally lower in comparison with 2015, with the reduction for exports (EUR 44 billion) approximately twice the size of that recorded for imports (EUR 21 billion). As a result, the EU-28’s trade surplus remained positive, but fell from EUR 60 billion in 2015 to EUR 38 billion in 2016.

After experiencing a sharp fall in both exports and imports in 2009, the EU-28 saw its exports rise 58.7 % over four years to a record level of EUR 1 736 billion in 2013. Exports then fell 1.9 % in 2014 before rising 5.1 % to a new peak in 2015 of EUR 1 789 billion and then declining again by 2.4 % in 2016. By contrast, the increase in imports after 2009 was 45.6 % over three years to peak in 2012 at EUR 1 799 billion. Imports fell 6.2 % in 2013 before stabilising (up 0.3 %) in 2014, increasing by 2.2 % in 2015 and then falling by 1.2 % in 2016, when their level was still below the value reached in 2012.

Among the EU Member States, Germany had by far the highest share of extra EU-28 trade in 2016, contributing 28.7 % of the EU-28’s exports of goods to non-member countries and accounting for almost one fifth (18.8 %) of the EU-28’s imports (see Figure 7). The next three largest exporters, the United Kingdom (11.1 %), Italy (10.5 %) and France (also 10.5 %), remained the same as in 2015 (although Italy’s extra-EU-28 exports surpassed those of France) and were the only other EU Member States to account for a double-digit share of EU-28 exports. The United Kingdom (16.6 %), the Netherlands (14.2 %), France (9.4 %) and Italy (8.4 %) followed Germany as the largest importers of goods from non-member countries in 2016. The relatively high share for the Netherlands can, at least in part, be explained by the considerable amount of goods that flow into the EU through Rotterdam, which is the EU’s leading sea port. The largest extra EU-28 trade surplus in goods, valued at EUR 180.9 billion in 2016, was recorded by Germany, followed by Italy (EUR 39.9 billion) and Ireland (EUR 34.5 billion). The largest trade deficits for extra-EU trade in goods were recorded in the Netherlands (EUR 115.9 billion) and the United Kingdom (EUR 89.7 billion).

Intra-EU trade in goods

Trade in goods between EU Member States (intra-EU trade) was valued — in terms of dispatches — at EUR 3 110 billion in 2016. This was 78 % higher than the level recorded for exports leaving the EU-28 to non-member countries of EUR 1 745 billion (extra-EU trade).

Intra EU-28 trade — again measured by dispatches — increased by 1.3 % across the EU-28 between 2015 and 2016; this was the seventh consecutive annual rise since 2009. Considering arrivals and dispatches together, the biggest increases in intra-EU trade in 2016 were registered for Cyprus (11.2 %), Romania (7.0 %) and Croatia (5.7 %), while Malta (-7.7 %), Luxembourg (-4.8 %), the United Kingdom (-4.3 %), Finland (-1.4 %), Belgium (-0.5 %) and Lithuania (-0.1 %) were the only EU Member States to record a reduction in their level of intra-EU trade in 2016.

As for extra EU-28 trade, Germany was also the EU Member State with the highest level of intra EU-28 trade in 2016, contributing 22.8 % of the EU-28’s dispatches of goods to other Member States and also just over one fifth (20.9 %) of the EU-28’s arrivals of goods from other Member States (see Figure 8). The Netherlands (12.5 %) was the only other Member State to contribute more than one tenth of intra-EU dispatches, again a consequence of the Rotterdam effect, while France (11.8 %) and the United Kingdom (9.6 %) accounted for close to one tenth of intra-EU-28 arrivals.

The importance of the EU’s internal market is underlined by the fact that intra-EU trade in goods (dispatches and arrivals combined) was higher than extra-EU trade (exports and imports combined) for each EU Member State, with the exceptions of Malta and the United Kingdom where they were very nearly balanced (see Figure 9). The proportion of total trade in goods that was accounted for by intra-EU and extra-EU flows varied considerably across the Member States, reflecting to some degree historical ties and geographical location. The highest shares of intra-EU trade (around 80 % of total trade) were recorded for Estonia, Luxembourg, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with this ratio falling to 49.3 % in the United Kingdom.

Analysis of main trading partners for goods

Between 2006 and 2016, the development of the EU-28’s exports of goods by major trading partner varied considerably. Among the main trading partners, the highest growth rate was recorded for exports to China which almost trebled, while exports to South Korea almost doubled (see Figure 10). Exports to Norway and Japan grew more slowly and were 26 % and 30 % higher in 2016 than they had been in 2006, while there was no change in the level of EU-28 exports to Russia over the period under consideration.

On the import side, between 2006 and 2016 the EU-28 saw a decrease in the value of its imports of goods from Japan (-15 %), Russia (-17 %) and Norway (-23 %); for the latter two these changes reflect, at least in part, changes in the price of oil and gas. The greatest increases were registered for imports from China (76 %), India (74 %) and Switzerland (70 %).

The United States remained, by far, the most common destination for goods exported from the EU-28 in 2016 (see Figure 11), although the share of EU-28 exports destined for the United States fell from 28.0 % of the total in 2002 to 16.7 % in 2013 before recovering to 20.8 % by 2016. China was the second most important destination market for EU-28 exports in 2016 (9.7 % of the EU-28 total), followed by Switzerland (8.2 %). In 2015, Turkey overtook Russia to be the fourth largest destination for EU-28 exports of goods and this pattern continued in 2016 when Turkey accounted for 4.5 % of EU-28 exports. The seven largest destination markets for EU-28 exports of goods — the United States, China, Switzerland, Turkey, Russia, Japan and Norway — accounted for more than half (53.4 %) of all EU-28 exports of goods.

The seven largest suppliers of EU-28 imports of goods were the same countries as the seven largest destination markets for EU-28 exports, although their order was slightly different (compare Figures 11 and 12). These seven countries accounted for a larger share of the EU-28’s imports of goods than their share of EU-28 exports of goods: just over three fifths (60.2 %) of all imports of goods into the EU-28 came from these seven countries. China was the origin for more than one fifth (20.2 %) of all imports into the EU-28 in 2016 and was the largest supplier of goods imported into the EU-28. The United States’ share of EU-28 imports of goods (14.5 %) was around 6 percentage points lower than that of China, while the shares of Switzerland (7.1 %) and Russia (7.0 %), which were the third and fourth largest suppliers of goods to the EU-28, were a further 7 percentage points smaller. Turkey was the fifth largest supplier of EU-28 imports of goods, followed closely by Japan and Norway.

Analysis of main product groups

Between 2011 and 2016, the value of the EU-28’s extra-EU exports increased for most product groups shown in Figure 13, although there were two exceptions: exports of raw materials (fell overall by 5.1 %) and exports of mineral fuels and lubricant products (fell by 26.0 %). The highest growth rate for exports was reported for food, drinks and tobacco for which an increase of 31.0 % was observed, while there was also a relatively rapid increase in the level of extra-EU exports of chemicals and related products (up 23.1 %), while double-digit growth rates were also recorded for machinery and transport equipment and for other manufactured products.

On the import side, there was a similar pattern observed, with a relatively large overall reduction in the level of extra-EU imports of raw materials (-20.2 %) and mineral fuels and lubricant products (-46.6 %) between 2011 and 2016; note that some of the losses may be attributed to price changes and/or exchange rate fluctuations, with many raw material commodities and oil being priced on global markets in US dollars. By contrast, extra-EU imports of machinery and transport equipment rose by 24.9 % overall between 2011 and 2016, with relatively high growth rates also recorded for food, drinks and tobacco (19.1 %) and for chemicals and related products (18.9 %).

The EU-28’s extra-EU trade surplus for goods of EUR 37.7 billion in 2016 was driven by a positive trade balance in relation to machinery and transport equipment, which stood at EUR 193.1 billion, and in relation to chemicals and related products (EUR 129.1 billion). Between 2011 and 2016, the EU-28 reported an increase in its trade surplus for chemicals and related products, whereas the surplus for machinery and transport equipment narrowed somewhat. For food, drinks and tobacco, the EU-28 moved from a small trade deficit in 2011 to a slightly larger trade surplus in 2016. The largest trade deficit in 2016 was for mineral fuels and lubricant products where imports exceeded exports by EUR 190.0 billion. The EU-28 trade deficits for mineral fuels and lubricant products and for raw materials narrowed considerably during the period 2011 to 2016, with the deficit for the former being more than halved during this five-year period. By contrast, the EU-28 trade deficit for other manufactured goods widened, reaching EUR 53.5 billion in 2016, which was 3.5 % higher than in 2011.

The structure of the EU-28’s exports of goods changed between 2011 and 2016 most notably among the smaller product groups (see Figure 14). The share of food, drinks and tobacco products increased from 5.7 % to 6.6 % between these years while the share of mineral fuels and lubricant products fell from 6.4 % to 4.2 %.

The largest change between 2011 and 2016 in the structure of the EU-28’s imports was for mineral fuels and lubricant products, whose share fell from 28.6 % to 15.5 % (see Figure 15). By contrast, over the same period the share of other manufactured goods rose from 23.3 % to 26.3 %, while the share of machinery and transport equipment rose from 25.6 % to 32.3 %.

Figure 16 contrasts the structure of the EU-28’s imports and exports in 2016: it should be borne in mind that the overall level of exports was 2.2 % higher than the level of imports. The most notable difference concerns the share of mineral fuels and lubricant products which was 3.6 times as high for imports as exports. This was balanced by lower import shares for machinery and transport equipment and for chemicals and related products.

Data sources and availability

Statistics on the international trade of goods measure the value and quantity of goods traded between EU Member States (known as intra-EU trade) and goods traded by Member States with non-member countries (known as extra-EU trade). These statistics are the official source of information about imports, exports and the trade balance in the EU, its Member States and the euro area.

Statistics are published for each declaring country with respect to each partner country, for several product classifications. One of the most commonly used product classifications is the standard international trade classification (SITC Rev. 4) of the United Nations (UN); this allows a comparison of international trade statistics to be made on a worldwide basis.

In extra-EU trade statistics, the data shown for the EU-28 treat this entity as a single trading block. In other words, the data for exports relate only to those exports from the EU-28 that leave the trading block and are destined for the rest of the world, while extra-EU imports relate to imports from the rest of the world (non-member countries) coming into the EU-28. By contrast, when reporting data for individual EU Member States, international trade flows are generally presented in terms of world trade flows (including both intra-EU and extra-EU partners). Statistics on trade between the EU Member States (intra-EU trade) cover arrivals and dispatches of goods recorded by each Member State.

The statistical values of extra-EU trade and intra-EU trade are recorded at their free-on-board (FOB) value for exports/dispatches and their cost, insurance and freight (CIF) value for imports/arrivals. The values reported comprise only those subsidiary costs (freight and insurance) which relate, for exports/dispatches, to the journey within the territory of the EU Member State from which the goods are exported/dispatched and, for imports/arrivals, to the journey outside the territory of the Member State into which the goods are imported/arrive.

EU data come from Eurostat’s COMEXT database, the 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 for a significant number of non-member countries. Aggregated and detailed statistics for international trade in goods as disseminated through Eurostat's website are compiled from COMEXT each month. As COMEXT is updated on a daily basis, data published on the website may differ from the data found in COMEXT (in case of recent revisions).

Context

Statistics on the international trade of goods are used extensively by decision makers at an international, EU and national level. Businesses may use international trade data to carry out market research and define their commercial strategy. Statistics for international trade in goods are also used by EU institutions in their preparation of multilateral and bilateral trade negotiations, for defining and implementing anti-dumping policies, for the purposes of macroeconomic and monetary policies, and in evaluating the progress of the single market, or the integration of European economies.

The development of trade can be an opportunity for economic growth. The EU has a common trade policy, whereby the European Commission negotiates trade agreements and represents the EU’s interests on behalf of its 28 Member States. The European Commission consults EU Member States through an advisory committee which discusses the full range of trade policy issues affecting the EU including multilateral, bilateral and unilateral instruments. As such, trade policy is an exclusive power of the EU — so only the EU, and not individual Member States, can legislate on trade matters and conclude international trade agreements. More recently, this scope has been extended beyond trade in goods, to cover trade in services, intellectual property and foreign direct investment (FDI).

Globally, multilateral trade issues are dealt with under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The WTO has 164 members (as of March 2017), with several candidate members in the process of joining. The WTO sets the global rules for trade, provides a forum for trade negotiations, and for settling disputes between members. The European Commission negotiates with its WTO partners and participated in the latest round of WTO multilateral trade negotiations, known as the Doha Development Agenda (DDA). However, having missed deadlines to conclude these talks in 2005 and again in 2006, the Doha round of talks broke down again at a WTO meeting in July 2008. In December 2013, progress was made on some areas with the adoption in Bali (Indonesia) of a package of agreements, including action on trade facilitation, a commitment to reduce export subsidies in agriculture, and further issues related to development such as food security in developing countries. At the 10th Ministerial Conference of WTO members in Nairobi in December 2015, an agreement on a series of trade initiatives was reached that aimed to benefit in particular the organisation’s poorest members; this included a commitment to abolish export subsidies for farm products.

The EU is in the process of trying to negotiate a trade and investment deal with the United States — the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP); it is hoped that any future agreement will provide a stimulus to economic growth in both regions. In February 2017, the European Parliament voted in favour of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada (this agreement must be ratified by the national parliaments of the EU Member States before it can take full effect).

See also

Further Eurostat information

Data visualisation

Main tables

International trade in goods - long-term indicators (t_ext_go_lti)
International trade in goods - short-term indicators (t_ext_go_sti)

Database

International trade in goods - aggregated data (ext_go_agg)
International trade in goods - long-term indicators (ext_go_lti)
International trade in goods - short-term indicators (ext_go_sti)
International trade in goods - 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.
  • Regulation (EC) No 638/2004 of 31 March 2004 on Community statistics relating to the trading of goods between Member States and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 3330/91.
  • Commission Regulation (EC) No 1982/2004 of 18 November 2004 implementing Regulation (EC) No 638/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council on Community statistics relating to the trading of goods between Member States and repealing Commission Regulations (EC) No 1901/2000 and (EEC) No 3590/92.

External links