South Korea-EU - trade in goods

Data extracted in September 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: October 2018.

This article provides a picture of the international trade in goods between the European Union (EU) and South Korea. It analyses the type of goods exchanged between the two economies and the shares of each EU Member State in those exchanges.

Figure 1a: The position of South Korea among the world's largest traders, 2016
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introle)
Figure 1b: Top 25 importers and exporters in the world, 2016 (EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introle)
Figure 2: Evolution of trade of the EU-28 and South Korea (2007 = 100) and cover ratio (%), 2007-2016 (1)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introle)
Figure 3a: The position of South Korea among the EU's main partners, 2016
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_maineu)
Figure 3b: Top 20 import and export partners of the EU, 2016
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_maineu)
Figure 4: Imports, exports and trade balance between the EU and South Korea, 2007-2016 (EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_maineu)
Figure 5: EU-28 exports to and imports from South Korea by SITC group, 2007 and 2016 (EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat DS-018995

Figure 6: EU-28 imports, exports and trade balance with South Korea by SITC group, 2007-2016 (EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat DS-018995
Figure 7a: Unit value index (2010 = 100) by SITC group for EU imports from South Korea, Jan 2007 - Jun 2017
Source: Eurostat (ext_st_eu28sitc)
Figure 7b: Unit value index (2010 = 100) by SITC group for EU exports to South Korea, Jan 2007 - Jun 2017
Source: Eurostat (ext_st_eu28sitc)

Figure 8: Most traded goods with South Korea, top 20 of SITC level 3 products, 2016 (EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat DS-018995
Figure 9a: Imports from South Korea by Member State, 2016
Source: Eurostat DS-018995
Figure 9b: Exports to South Korea by Member State, 2016
Source: Eurostat DS-018995
Figure 9c: Trade balance with South Korea by Member State, 2016 (EUR million)
Source: Eurostat DS-018995

Main statistical findings

  • In 2016, South Korea was the sixth largest exporter and importer of goods in the world with a share of 4.0 % of world exports and a share of 3.2 % of world imports.
  • In 2016, among the EU's trading partners, South Korea was the ninth largest partner for exports and the eighth largest partner for imports.
  • EU trade position with South Korea turned from a 17.0 billion euro deficit in 2007 to a 2.5 billion euro surplus in 2016.
  • Manufactured goods have a share of 87 % of EU exports to South Korea and 94 % of EU imports from South Korea.
  • Among EU Member States, Germany is the largest importer (EUR 6.4 billion) from and exporter (EUR 17.4 billion) to South Korea.
  • Germany has the largest trade surplus (EUR 11.0 billion) with South Korea while Slovakia (EUR 3.1 billion) has the largest trade deficit.

EU and South Korea in world trade in goods

Figure 1a shows that the four largest exporters account for almost half of the world exports. The largest is China (17 %) followed by the EU (16 %), the United States (12 %) and Japan (5 %). The same four also account for almost half of the world imports but in different order. Here the USA (18 %) leads, followed by the EU (15 %), China (12 %) and Japan (5 %).

Figure 1b has some more detail. South Korea is the sixth largest exporter (EUR 448 billion, 4.0 %) and importer (EUR 367 billion, 3.2 %) of the world, in both cases between Hong Kong and Canada. In exports it is only a little below Hong Kong (EUR 467 billion, 4.2 %) and some way above Canada (EUR 351 billion, 3.2 %). In imports the gap with Hong Kong (EUR 494 billion, 4.2 %) is somewhat larger while there is almost no difference with Canada (EUR 364 billion, 3.2 %).

Figure 2 focuses on the evolution of trade in the EU and South Korea over the period 2007-2016. From 2007 to 2011 imports and exports (both indexed at 100 % in 2007) for both economies developed in similar fashion with a low point in 2009 followed by a recovery in which both exports and imports of South Korea grew more than those of the EU. For both economies exports continued to grow but after 2012 imports remained more or less constant or even fell in some years. This means that the cover ratio (exports divided by imports) of both economies increased. For the EU it passed the 100 % mark in 2013 and has remained just above it since 2012. For South Korea, except in 2008, it has always been above 100 %, peaking at 122 % in 2016. In 2016 both South Korean exports and imports fell ten percentage points.

EU turned trade deficit into a surplus

Figure 3a shows South Korea's trade compared to the top 5 trading partners of the EU which were the United States, China, Switzerland, Turkey and Russia. These five made up 47 % of all exports from the EU and 53 % of all imports to the EU.

Figure 3b has some more details and shows that in 2016, South Korea was the EU's ninth largest partner for exports (EUR 44 billion, 2.5 %) between the United Arab Emirates (EUR 46 billion, 2.6 %) and India (EUR 38 billion, 2.2 %). For imports it was the EU's eighth largest partner (EUR 42 billion, 2.4 %) some distance behind Norway (EUR 64 billion, 3.7 %) and close to India (EUR 39 billion, 2.3%).

The EU recorded a trade deficit with South Korea from 2007 to 2012 (see Figure 4). In this time span, trade between the two economies hit a low in 2009. Exports quickly recovered, peaking in 2015 at EUR 48 billion before dropping to EUR 44 billion in 2016 which was still double their 2009 level. Imports also recovered but their growth was very small and uneven reaching EUR 42 billion in 2016. Consequently, the EU has recorded a small but consistent trade surplus since 2013.

Manufactured goods dominate trade with South Korea

When breaking down imports and exports by SITC groups, the main categories driving the exports to South Korea are 'Machinery and vehicles' (50 %), 'Other manufactured goods' (21 %) and 'Chemicals' (16 %) (see Figure 5). Together these manufactured goods accounted for 87 % of EU exports. Manufactured goods dominated imports even more, with a share of 94 % in 2016. Here too 'Machinery and vehicles' (60 %) was the largest group, followed by 'Other manufactured goods'(21%) and 'Chemicals' (12 %). Between 2007 and 2016 the shares of the different product groups in exports changed very little. In contrast, in imports the share for 'Machinery and vehicles' dropped by 18 percentage points while 'Other manufactured goods' and 'Chemicals' gained 5 and 9 percentage points respectively

Figure 6 shows the evolution of EU imports and exports by SITC group since 2007. The EU has small trade surpluses in all but two groups. In 'Machinery and vehicles' the deficit was EUR 3 billion in 2016 which was much less than the EUR 20 billion it had been in 2007. In 'Energy there was a deficit between 2007 and 2011 which turned to a surplus between 2012 and 2015 but returned to a tiny deficit in 2016.

Figure 7a shows the unit value index for EU imports from South Korea by SITC group. In July 2017 for 'Machinery and vehicles' (126) the index was 9 points above the total index (117) while for 'Other manufactured goods' (112) and 'Chemicals' (117) they were 5 and 15 below the total index respectively.

On the export side (Figure 7b), in July 2017 the index for 'Machinery and vehicles' (125) was also 9 points above the total index (116) and very close to the import index. The index for exports of 'Other manufactured goods' (115) was just 3 points above its counterpart in imports. Only for 'Chemicals' was the export index (118) substantially (16 points) above the import index, indicating that prices of exports of chemicals to South Korea had risen more than prices for imports of chemicals from South Korea.

Most traded goods: cars

Figure 8 gives more detail about the goods exchanged between the EU and South Korea, showing the top 20 traded goods at a more detailed level (by SITC level 3). Those top 20 goods covered just over half of total traded goods in 2016. The top seven products all belonged to the 'Machinery & vehicles' group (codes starting with 7) which had a total of 13 products in the top 20. 'Chemicals' (codes starting with 5) had four products in the top 20. The three remaining products were petroleum oils (both crude and non-crude) and measuring and other instruments. At this product level motor cars and vehicles were both the most imported and most exported product between the EU and South Korea.

Another interesting way to look at data is to investigate the export/import ratio of traded goods, in order to better identify the direction taken by flows and specialisation between the two areas. These ratios can be found in the right-hand margin of Figure 8. For the top product 'motor cars and motor vehicles' the cover ratio of 120 indicates that there are substantial trade flows in both directions but 20 % more exports than imports. For the next three products the ratio being lower than 100 indicates a trade deficit for the EU, most notably in ships, boats and floating structures whose ratio of three indicates that only 3 % of imports are covered by exports. An example of the opposite are medicaments and petroleum oils whose very high ratios signify that trade for these products flows almost exclusively to South Korea.

Germany and the United Kingdom trade most with South Korea

Figure 9a shows Member States' imports from South Korea and the share of the partner South Korea in national extra-EU imports. Table 9b provides similar information but concerning Member States' exports to South Korea.

There were two Member States whose imports from South Korea in 2016 were higher than EUR 5 billion: Germany (6.4 billion) and the United Kingdom (EUR 5.5 billion). South Korea is an important partner for Slovakia, Cyprus and Slovenia who respectively get 24 %, 13 % and 11 % of their extra-EU imports from South Korea. The share is close to 9 % for Croatia, the Czech Republic and Greece but lower than 6 % for the remaining 22 Member States.

Germany (17.4 billion) and the United Kingdom (EUR 5.3 billion) are also the largest exporters to South Korea. Only Germany (3.5 %), the Netherlands (3.1 %) and Finland (3.0 %) have more than 3 % of their extra-EU exports destined for South Korea.

Figure 9c shows that 11 Member States had a trade surplus with South Korea in 2016, ranging from just EUR 1 million for Estonia to EUR 11.0 billion for Germany. France (EUR 1.4 billion) and Italy (EUR 1.0 billion) were the only other countries whose trade surplus was larger than EUR 1 billion. The remaining 17 Member States had a trade deficit, starting at EUR 34 million for Malta to EUR 3.1 billion for Slovakia. The Czech Republic (EUR 2.0 billion), Poland (EUR 1.9 billion) and Greece (EUR 1.7 billion) were the only other countries whose trade deficit with South Korea was larger than EUR 1 billion.

Data sources and availability

EU data is taken from Eurostat's COMEXT database. COMEXT is 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 of a significant number of third countries. International trade aggregated and detailed statistics disseminated via the Eurostat website are compiled from COMEXT data according to a monthly process.

Data are collected by the competent national authorities of the Member States and compiled according to a harmonised methodology established by EU regulations before transmission to Eurostat. For extra-EU trade, the statistical information is mainly provided by the traders on the basis of customs declarations.

EU data are compiled according to Community guidelines and may, therefore, differ from national data published by the Member States. Statistics on extra-EU trade are calculated as the sum of trade of each of the 28 EU 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.

Data for the other major traders are taken from the Comtrade database of the United Nations. Data availability differs among countries, therefore Figure 1 shows the latest common available year for all the main traders. For the calculation of shares the world trade is defined as the sum of EU trade with non-EU countries (source: Eurostat) plus the international trade of non-EU countries (source: IMF Dots database).


According to the EU concepts and definitions, extra-EU trade statistics (trade between EU Member States and non-EU countries) do not record exchanges involving goods in transit, placed in a customs warehouse or given temporary admission (for trade fairs, temporary exhibitions, tests, etc.). This is known as 'special trade'. The partner is the country of final destination of the goods for exports and the country of origin for imports.

Product classification

Information on commodities exported and imported is presented according to the Standard international trade classification (SITC). A full description is available from Eurostat's classification server RAMON.

Unit of measure

Trade values are expressed in millions or 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.


Trade is an important indicator of Europe's prosperity and place in the world. The block is deeply integrated into global markets both for the products it sources and the exports it sells. The EU trade policy is an important element of the external dimension of the 'Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth' and is one of the main pillars of the EU's relations with the rest of the world.

Because the 28 EU Member States share a single market and a single external border, they also have a single trade policy. EU Member States speak and negotiate collectively, both in the World Trade Organization, where the rules of international trade are agreed and enforced, and with individual trading partners. This common policy enables them to speak with one voice in trade negotiations, maximising their impact in such negotiations. This is even more important in a globalised world in which economies tend to cluster together in regional groups.

The openness of the EU's trade regime has meant that the EU is the biggest player on the global trading scene and remains a good region to do business with. Thanks to the ease of modern transport and communications, it is now easier to produce, buy and sell goods around the world which gives European companies of every size the potential to trade outside Europe.

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 - long-term indicators (ext_go_lti)
International trade in goods - short-term indicators (ext_go_sti)
International trade in goods - detailed data (detail)
EU trade since 1988 by SITC (DS-018995)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

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

External links

  • European Commission