Intra-EU trade in goods - recent trends

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

This article takes a close look at recent trends, focusing on total intra-EU trade in goods and the most traded products. It presents statistics for the EU-28 aggregate and for individual Member States for the period covering 2002 to 2013, although the composition of the actual EU has changed over this period.

Statistics on international trade in goods between Member States of the European Union (EU)- especially the size and evolution of imports and exports - enable the EU and national authorities to evaluate the growth of the Single Market and the integration of EU economies. These statistics also provide EU businesses with essential information for their sales and marketing policies.

Figure 1: Evolution of intra EU-28 export of goods, January 2002 - November 2016
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (ext_st_eu28sitc)
Figure 2: Exports of goods to other Member States, 2015
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat. Comext table DS-057009
Table 1: Exports of goods to other Member States, 2003, 2009 and 2015
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat. Comext table DS-057009
Figure 3: Top-3 partners of each Member State in intra-EU exports of goods, 2015
(% share of total intra-EU exports of goods)
Source: Eurostat DS-018995
Figure 4: Intra-EU trade in goods balance by Member State, 2015
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat DS-018995
Table 2: Trade in goods balance with other Member States, 2003, 2009, 2015 and trend
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat DS-018995
Figure 5: Intra-EU exports of goods compared with extra-EU exports of goods by Member State, 2015
Source: Eurostat DS-018995
Table 3: Ratio of intra-EU exports of goods to intra-EU imports of goods, 2006-2015
Source: Eurostat DS-018995
Table 4: Ratio of extra-EU exports of goods to extra-EU imports of goods, 2006-2015
Source: Eurostat DS-018995
Table 5: Ratio of total exports of goods to total imports of goods, 2006-2015
Source: Eurostat DS-018995
Table 6: Ratio of intra-EU exports of goods to extra-EU exports of goods, 2003, 2009 and 2015
Source: Eurostat DS-018995
Figure 6: Intra EU-28 exports of goods by product type, 2003, 2009 and 2015 (1)
(% share of total exports of goods)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intratrd)
Table 7: Member States' exports of goods by product type, 2003, 2009 and 2015
(% share of total exports of goods)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intratrd)

Main statistical findings

Figure 1 shows the seasonally adjusted value of monthly total exports of goods for EU-28 Member States to other Member States. In 2002 (1 908 billion EUR) and 2003 (1 927 billion EUR) the level of exports of goods was fairly stable, followed by a period of rapid increase between 2004 and the third quarter of 2008. From the fourth quarter of 2008 to the end of the second quarter of 2009 there was a sharp decrease in the value of exports of goods. Following this decline the value of exports of goods began to increase again until the beginning of 2011, when it had returned to the level seen before the decrease at the end of 2008. From 2011 onwards the level has been relatively stable and the annual value for 2015 is over EUR 3 063 billion.

Since the introduction of the Intrastat data collection system for intra-EU trade in goods on 1 January 1993, the value of intra-EU exports of goods has been consistently higher than that of intra-EU imports of goods. In theory, as intra-EU exports of goods are declared FOB-type value and intra-EU imports of goods CIF-type value, the value of intra-EU imports of goods should be slightly higher than that of intra-EU exports of goods. The analysis presented in this article considers intra-EU exports of goods only, as it is the more reliable measure of total intra-EU trade in goods since, at aggregated levels, total intra-EU exports of goods has better coverage than total intra-EU imports of goods.

Intra-EU trade in goods by Member State

There is a wide variation in the value of export trade in goods by Member State with partners within the EU, as can be seen in figure 2. In 2015 the value of export trade in goods within the EU ranged from over EUR 500 billion for Germany to other Member States in the EU to under EUR 1 billion for Cyprus.

There were nine Member States (Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom) whose exports of goods to partners in the EU were over EUR 100 billion in 2015, accounting for almost 80 % of the total value of intra-EU exports of goods.

Table 1 shows that for 12 Member States the value of exports of goods to partners in the EU-28 has increased more than 100 % between 2003 and 2015 and another five where the growth was between 50 % and 100 %. In eleven countries growth was less than 50 %. Growth rates of over 200 % (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia) were all recorded in countries that joined the EU in or after 2004.

Figure 3 shows that most Member States have two or three partners within the EU accounting for the majority (over 50 %) of their intra-EU exports. These partners are often large countries but also quite frequently countries in close geographical proximity. The only countries that do not have Germany as one of their top-3 partners were Estonia and Cyprus where it ranked 5th and 6th respectively. The shared 2nd most mentioned partners were France and the United Kingdom which both appeared 10 times as top-3 partners. Twenty-six countries had at least one EU neighbour among their top-3 partners. The exceptions were Malta and Romania for which respective neighbours Italy and Hungary were the 4th largest partner.

Intra-EU trade in goods balance

It can be difficult to interpret figures in absolute terms for individual Member States. In particular their trade in goods balances must be interpreted with caution for the phenomenon of Quasi-transit.

Figure 4 shows that, as with the size of the exports flows for trade in goods, there was also a wide variation between Member States in the balance of these two flows. Sixteen Member States have negative trade in goods balances - i.e. they import more goods by value from EU partners than they export to other EU Member States. There were both larger and smaller economies within the EU with negative trade in goods balances in 2015. The largest negative intra-EU trade in goods balances were recorded for the UK (EUR -119 billion) and France (EUR - 84 billion). Of the twelve Member States with positive intra-EU trade in goods balances in 2013, the largest was for the Netherlands, at over EUR 176 billion.

Table 2 shows the trade in goods balance for 2003, 2009 and 2015. Over this period, most Member States have continued to be either net importers of goods (for example France and the United Kingdom) or net exporters of goods (for example Germany and the Czech Republic). However the extent of the positive or negative balance has changed for many Member States. For example France continues to be a net importer of goods from other Member States, but the negative goods balance has increased from EUR 16 billion to EUR 84 billion. At the same time, Germany continues to be a net exporter of goods but its positive balance has decreased from EUR 79 billion to under EUR 72 billion. Between 2003 and 2015 some Member States have become net importers of goods, for example Finland, whose trade in goods balance moved from EUR +2.7 billion in 2003 to EUR -8.0 billion in 2015. Conversely there are other Member States who over the same period changed from being net importers of goods to net exporters of goods. For example Poland, whose trade deficit of EUR -3.0 billion in 2003 changed to a surplus of EUR +18.4 billion in 2015.

The intra-EU trade in goods balance and its evolution over time give some detail on the impact of goods trade on the economy. However it is difficult to compare net trade in goods balances across Member States because of the differences in the value of trade for different Member States. Another way to compare the value of imports against exports is to consider the quotient of ‘goods exports/goods imports’. For this ratio those countries with a value less than 100 % are net importers of goods while those with a value more than 100 % are net exporters of goods. Table 3 shows this statistic by Member State for trade with other members of the European Union for the years 2006 - 2015.

As mentioned earlier, France has one of the largest negative absolute EU trade in goods balance, however the measure used in table 3 has France ranked 22nd , similar to other Member States with much lower absolute negative trade balances, for example Portugal and Latvia. At the other end Germany which has the 2nd largest trade surplus ranks 8th in table 3 similar to countries such as Hungary and Slovakia which have much lower trade surpluses in absolute terms.

We can also consider the trade relationship of individual Member States with non-EU partners to add further context to the interpretation of Intra-EU trade in goods balances. Table 4 shows the quotient 'goods exports/goods imports' by Member State for trade with non-EU trading partners for the years 2006 - 2015.

From this table it is clear that some Member States are net importers of goods both in their trade with European Union partners and trade partners outside of the EU. Bulgaria, Greece, Croatia, Cyprus, Portugal and the United Kingdom have values less than 100 % in both tables 3 and 4.

It is also interesting to compare the ratios for the Netherlands in tables 3 and 4, the former showing in recent years exports to EU partners approaching almost twice the value of its imports, while the latter shows the value of exports to non-EU partners is around half the value of imports. Both of these figures are affected by quasi-transit, with the Netherlands being a frequent point of entry for goods coming into the European Union. Table 5 shows a greater balance between the Netherlands imports and exports of goods to both EU-28 Member States and non-EU countries combined.

Finally when considering the trade relationships between a country and its trading partners consideration must also be given to the impact of trade in services to get a more complete picture. See for example the recent article on Trade in Services

Intra-EU trade in goods compared with extra-EU trade in goods

Traditionally the EU Member States as a whole have traded goods more with other Member States than with countries outside the EU, although as mentioned above there has been some change in recent years.

Figure 5 shows that in 2015, with the exception of Malta and the United Kingdom), the greater proportion of a Member States' total trade in goods was with partners within the EU-28. As can be seen in table 6 there is a relatively large variation among Member States in this proportion, ranging in 2015 from almost 86 % of Slovakia’s total exports of goods going to other EU Member States to under 44 % of the UK’s total goods exports. Between 2003 and 2015 the proportion of trade with EU-28 partners decreased from 69 % to 63 %. Four Member States saw a decrease in this proportion of over 10 percentage points (p.p.) with the largest decreases for the United Kingdom (down almost 15 p.p.) and Greece (down almost 13 p.p.). In eleven member states the proportion dropped between 5 and 10 p.p. and in twelve it dropped less than 5 p.p. Only in Bulgaria there was a modest increase (0.4 p.p.) in the proportion of trade with EU-28 partners.

Intra-EU trade in goods by main product groups

In the internal market international trade in goods is mainly in manufactured products: their share in 2015 was 80 % of total intra-EU export trade in goods. Of this machinery and vehicles made up 36 % of the total goods exports (see Figure 6), while other manufactured goods accounted for almost 27 % and chemical products for 16 %. Primary products account for 19 % of total exports of goods; made up of food and drink (10 %), energy products (6 %) and raw materials (3 %).

Reflecting the dominance of trade in manufactured goods at the EU level for all Member States, the majority of goods exported to other Member States in 2015 were manufactured goods. However there is a large difference in the proportion of manufactured goods in total exports of goods, from 91 % of all goods exports from Slovakia to just 44 % for Greece.

Table 7 shows that in 2015 both larger economies (for example Germany and Italy) and smaller economies (for example Luxembourg and Slovenia) have a proportion of manufactured goods exported greater than the EU average. Similarly there are also larger (for example United Kingdom and Spain) and smaller economies (for example Malta and Cyprus) that have a proportion below the EU average. The structure of intra-EU goods exports has slightly changed in recent years. Between 2003 and 2015, the share of primary products increased from 14 % to 17 % while the respective share of manufactured goods declined.

Individually, 25 out of the 28 Member States saw a decrease between 2003 and 2015 in the proportion of their goods exports in the manufactured goods category. The largest decreases were for Malta and Greece who each lost 20 percentage points (p.p.) . Finland (-13 and Portugal - 11 p.p.) where the only other countries with decreases larger than 10 %. For six Member States the decrease was between 5 and 10 p.p.. For the majority of countries the changes were less than 5 %.

Denmark (+3 p.p.), Ireland and Slovakia (each +1 p.p.) were the three countries where the proportion increased slightly. However at the next level product breakdown reveals some more variation. In Denmark the 3 % gain was mainly due to "Chemicals and related products" growth of 7 p.p. while the other two product groups ("Manufactured good classified chiefly by material" and "Machinery and transport equipment") each lost 1 p.p. Irish exports saw a rise of 14 p.p. in "Chemicals and related products" while "Machinery and transport equipment" fell 14 p.p. Slovakia saw an increase of 12 p.p. in "Machinery and transport equipment" while "Manufactured good classified chiefly by material" fell by 7 p.p.

Data sources and availability

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.

Information on intra-EU trade is collected by the EU Member States using the various media placed at the disposal of the information providers. These may be paper or electronic declarations provided for at national level. The declarations are addressed directly to the competent national administrations.

European statistics on international trade in goods are compiled according to the EU concepts and definitions and may, therefore, differ from national data published by Member States.


The EU's single or internal market is a market where goods, services, capital and people can circulate freely. The free movement of goods principle requires that national barriers to the free movement of goods within the EU be removed. Articles 34 to 36 of the Treaty of the functioning of the European Union prohibit quantitative restrictions on imports, exports or goods in transit and all similar restrictive measures between member countries. All measures capable of hindering directly or indirectly such imports are considered to be quantitative restrictions.
Additionally 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.

The importance of the EU’s internal market is underlined by the fact that the proportion of intra-EU trade in goods is higher than extra-EU trade in goods in most EU Member States with few exceptions. The variation in the proportion of total trade in goods accounted for by intra-EU trade reflects to some degree historical ties and geographical location.

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)


International trade in goods - aggregated data (ext_go_agg)
International trade in goods - detailed data (detail)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables, figures and maps (MS Excel)

Other information — Legal background

  • 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