Intra-EU trade in goods - recent trends

Data from May 2014. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.

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 trade in goods, 2002-2013
(EUR 1 000 million) - Source: Eurostat (TET00039)
Figure 2: Exports of goods to other Member States, 2013
(EUR 1 000 million) - Source: Eurostat (TET00039)
Table 1: Exports of goods to other Member State, 2002 and 2013
(EUR 1 000 million) - Source: Eurostat (TET00039)
Figure 3: Distribution of exports of goods to other EU partners by Member State, 2013
(% share of total intra-EU exports of goods) - Source: Eurostat DS-018995
Figure 4: Intra-EU trade in goods balance by Member State, 2013
(EUR 1 000 million)- Source: Eurostat (TET00039)
Table 2: Trade in goods balance with other Member State, 2002 and 2013
(EUR 1 000 million) - Source: Eurostat (TET00039)
Figure 5: Intra EU exports of goods compared with Extra EU exports of goods by Member State, 2013
(% share of total exports of goods) - Source: Eurostat (TET00038) and (TET00039)
Table 3: Intra-EU exports/Intra-EU imports, 2002-2013,
(%) - Source: Eurostat (TET00039)
Table 4: Extra-EU exports/Extra-EU imports, 2002-2013,
(%) - Source: Eurostat (TET00038)
Table 5: Total exports/Total imports, 2002-2013,
(%) - Source: Eurostat (TET00038) and (TET00039)
Table 6: Intra EU exports of goods compared with Extra EU exports of goods by Member State, 2002 and 2013
(% share of total exports of goods)- Source: Eurostat (TET00038) and (TET00039)
Figure 6: Intra EU-28 exports of goods by product type, 2013
(% share of total Intra EU-28 exports of goods) - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intratrd)
Table 7: Member States exports of goods by product type, 2002 and 2013
(% 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 and 2003 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 seasonally adjusted annual value for 2013 is over EUR 2 800 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.

In 2013 just over 62 % of the total value of goods (intra-EU and extra-EU trade combined) exported from EU Member States were to other Member States. This proportion has declined since 2002 by just over 6 percentage points, falling gradually since 2008. 

Intra-EU trade in goods by Member State

There is a wide variation in the value of export trade in goods by Member States with partners within the EU, as can be seen in figure 2. In 2013 the value of export trade in goods within the EU ranged from over EUR 623 billion from Germany to other Member States in the EU to under EUR 1 billion from Cyprus to its EU partners.

There were eight Member States whose exports of goods to partners in the EU were over EUR 100 billion in 2013, accounting for over 76 % of the total value of intra-EU exports of goods.

Table 1 shows that for all but two Member States (Ireland and the United Kingdom) the value of exports of goods to partners in the EU-28 has increased between 2002 and 2013. There is considerable variation in the rate of change, ranging from a relatively modest 6 % increase in the value of exports of goods from Finland to other EU partners to an almost four fold increase in the value of exports in goods from Slovakia to other EU Member States. As with the EU-28 aggregate figure, the majority of Member States have shown an increasing trend over the period 2002-2013 in the value of their goods exports with a fall in 2009 at the time of the financial turmoil. The value of exports of goods for the majority of Member States has now recovered its level before 2009.

Figure 3 shows that most Member States have 2 or 3 partners within the EU accounting for the majority (over 50 %) of their intra-EU exports. These partners are quite often close in geographical proximity. Smaller shares of their exports go to the rest of their EU partners.

This has been the pattern over the period 2002 to 2013. Indeed there has been stability in partners within the EU over this period, particularly for the larger goods exporting countries. There is more change for smaller goods exporters, and in particular there is some evidence of a greater proportion of goods exported to geographically closer partners than was the case at the start of the period. For example the proportion of goods exported between Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia has increased while the proportion going to more distant EU partners has fallen.

Intra-EU trade in goods balance

It can be difficult to interpret figures in absolute terms for individual Member States, and their trade in goods balances must be interpreted with caution, in particular 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. The largest negative intra-EU trade in goods balances are recorded for France (just under EUR 89 billion) and the United Kingdom (nearly EUR 79 billion).

Figure 4 shows there were both larger and smaller economies within the EU with negative trade in goods balances in 2013. Of the remaining twelve Member States with positive intra-EU trade in goods balances in 2013 the largest observed was for the Netherlands, at over EUR 179 billion.

Table 2 shows the trade in goods balance for 2002 and 2013. 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 just over EUR 10 billion to just under EUR 89 billion . At the same time, although Germany continues to be a net exporter of goods, its positive balance has decreased from over EUR 73 billion to under EUR 45 billion. Between 2002 and 2013 some Member States have become net importers of goods, for example Finland, whose trade in goods balance moved from EUR +3.9 billion in 2002 to EUR -7.6 billion in 2013. Conversely there are other Member States who over the same period have changed from being net importers of goods to net exporters of goods. For example Spain, whose trade in goods balance of EUR -21.2 billion in 2002 became EUR +9.4 billion in 2013.

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 ‘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 2002 - 2013.

As mentioned earlier, France has the largest negative absolute EU trade in goods balance, however the measure used in table 3 shows that France is similar to other Member States with much lower absolute negative trade balances, for example Estonia and Luxembourg.

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 2002 - 2013.

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. For example Greece, Croatia, 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.

For example the recent article on Trade in Services shows that for some of the net goods importers 'In transactions with other Member States, the largest surpluses for trade in services were recorded by … Luxembourg (EUR 20.1 billion) and France (EUR 14.7 billion) …’ while for net goods exporters ‘ … deficits (in services trade) were registered in Germany (EUR -26.5 billion) …..’.

Similarly for services transactions ‘The United Kingdom recorded the highest surplus for international trade in services with extra EU-28 partners (EUR 78.8 billion), followed by France (EUR 21.6 billion) and Germany (EUR 13.4 billion).’

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 2013, with the exception of three Member States (Greece, Malta and the United Kingdom), the greater proportion of a Member States's 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 2013 from almost 83 % of Slovakia’s total exports of goods going to other EU Member States to under 43 % of Malta’s total goods exports.

In line with the decrease seen overall for the EU-28, all but one Member State experienced a decrease in the proportion of its total worldwide trade in goods with partners in the EU-28 since 2002. Five Member States saw a decrease in this proportion of over 10 percentage points with the largest decreases for the United Kingdom (down almost 18 percentage points) and Greece (down over 14 percentage points).

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 2013 was just over 77 % of total intra-EU export trade in goods. In 2013 machinery and vehicles made up 34 % of the total goods exports, while other manufactured goods accounted for almost 27 % and chemical products for 16 %. Primary products account for just under 22 % of total exports of goods; the most traded products within this category are food and drink (just under 49 % share of all primary goods) and energy products (with a share of over 34 % of all primary goods).

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 2013 were manufactured goods. However there is a large difference in the proportion of manufactured goods in total exports of goods, from 88 % of all goods exports from the Czech Republic to just 48 % for Lithuania.

Table 7 shows that in 2013 both larger economies (for example Germany and Italy) and smaller economies (for example Malta and Luxembourg) have a proportion of manufactured goods exported greater than the EU average. The structure of intra-EU goods exports has slightly changed in recent years. Between 2002 and 2013, the share of primary products increased from 15 % to 22 % while the respective share of manufactured goods declined. Although all of the area covered in primary goods experienced a rapid decline in 2009 followed by a return by 2013 to its previous upward trend it is the energy products which have increased the most. Generally manufactured goods have returned to the level of intra-EU exports of goods seen before the decline in 2009.

Individually, all Member States (with the exception of Cyprus) saw a decrease between 2002 and 2013 in the proportion of their goods exports in the manufactured goods category. The largest changes were a decrease of 17 percentage points for Malta and decreases of 15 percentage points for the United Kingdom and Finland. In comparison there were some Member States where the decrease was relatively small, indeed for twelve of the Member States the change was less than 6 % experienced at the EU level. Within these broader product categories there have been changes at the Member States level for the more detailed product descriptions. For example the proportion of manufactured goods exported from Slovakia between 2002 and 2013 has remained fairly stable. However within the manufactured goods category the proportion of goods in the ‘Machinery and Transport category’ has risen from 39 % of exported goods to 53 %. This has been balanced by decreases in the ‘Manufactured Goods Classified Chiefly by Material’ (26 to 18 %) and ‘Miscellaneous Manufactured Articles’ (14 to 9 %).

Data sources and availability

EU data comes 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 extra-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.

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.

Context

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

Publications

Main tables

International trade data (t_ext)
International trade long-term indicators (t_ext_lti)
International trade short-term indicators (t_ext_sti)

Database

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

Source data for figures (MS Excel)

Methodology / Metadata

External links