International trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products

Data from May 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned update May 2018
Figure 1: Extra-EU and intra-EU trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products. 2002-2016
Source: Eurostat, Comext database DS-018995
Figure 2: EU-28 exports, imports and trade balance in medicinal and pharmaceutical products, 2002-2016
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat, Comext database DS-018995
Figure 3: Main countries in worldwide trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products, 2016
(EUR billion)
Sources: Eurostat, Comext database DS-018995 and UN Comtrade
Table 1: Extra-EU-28 trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products, top 10 trading partners, 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016
(EUR million)
Source: Eurostat, Comext database DS-018995
Table 2: Extra-EU-28 trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products, by Member State
(EUR million)
Source: Eurostat, Comext database DS-018995
Figure 4: Extra-EU-28 trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products, by SITC subgroup, 2006 and 2016
(EUR million)
Source: Eurostat, Comext database DS-018995
Figure 5: Top 3 partners for extra-EU-28 imports of medicinal and pharmaceutical products by Member State, 2016
Source: Eurostat, Comext database DS-018995
Figure 6: Top 3 partners for extra-EU-28 exports of medicinal and pharmaceutical products by Member State, 2016
Source: Eurostat, Comext database DS-018995

The European Union is the largest importer and exporter of medicinal and pharmaceutical products in 2016. Its main trading partners are the United States and Switzerland. Germany was the largest exporter of medicinal and pharmaceutical products, accounting for a quarter of all extra-EU exports in 2016. Among the different product group the "glycosides and related products" had the highest growth rate between 2006 and 2016.

Main statistical findings

Increasing share in extra-EU-28 trade

Trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products has been growing steadily since 2002 (see Figure 1). Extra-EU trade almost tripled from EUR 76 billion in 2002 to EUR 220 billion in 2016 which translates to an average annual growth of 7.8%. In the same period, intra-EU trade more than doubled from EUR 156 billion to EUR 327 billion, equivalent to an average annual growth of 5.4 %. In 2002, both intra-EU and extra-EU trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products accounted for 4.2 % of total intra-EU and extra-EU trade. These remained fairly close between 2002 and 2014 but started diverging in 2015. In 2016, the share was more than 1% higher in extra-EU trade (6.4 %) than in intra-EU trade (5.3 %)

An increasing trade surplus

Figure 2 shows that extra-EU exports and imports in medicinal and pharmaceutical products grew almost every year between 2002 and 2016. Imports were dropping slightly only in 2002 and 2013. Even the financial crisis which impacted trade in many other products caused exports to fall by only 0.6 % in 2008 while imports even grew that year. With exports growing more than imports the trade balance grew from EUR 22 billion in 2002 to a record height of EUR 70 billion in 2015 before dropping slightly, to reach EUR 69 billion in 2016.

EU-28 largest in world trade

The European Union was by far the major world trader in medicinal and pharmaceutical products (SITC division 54) in 2016, with total export amounting to EUR 144.2 billion and imports of EUR 75.4 billion (see Figure 3). The United States was however the largest importer (EUR 86.7 billion) and third largest exporter (EUR 46.7 billion. Switzerland was the second largest exporter (EUR 64.8 billion), while its imports (EUR 23.5 billion) came third and were a little higher than those of Japan (EUR 23.0 billion) and China (EUR 19.9 billion).

Trade by product group

Both in imports and exports the group 'other' dominates trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products, being larger than the combined trade of the other product groups (See Figure 4). The highest growth was found in glycosides and related products both in exports and imports; their average annual growth of 16 % and 14 % respectively caused them to more than quadruple since 2006.

United States and Switzerland remain the top EU partners

The United States stands out as the EU’s main trading partner over the period 2001-2016. (See Table 1). Both exports and imports more than tripled in this period. The United States share is just over a third of all EU exports which is three time as much as Switzerland which has the second largest share in exports. China (5.7%), Japan (6.1 %) and Russia (4.3 %) were the only other countries with shares above 4 %. Imports to the EU are even more dominated by the United States (42.0 %) and Switzerland (34.7 %) with no other country having a share of more than 4 %.

Switzerland and the United States were however not the countries with the highest growth rates. For exports both China (21 %) and Russia (10 %) had higher growth than the United States (9.2 %). In imports double digit growth was found in Singapore (17.8 %), Brazil (13.5 %), Canada (12.4 %), China (11.4 %) and Israel (11.3 %) while Switzerland (8.3 %) and the United States (7.0 %) grew somewhat less strongly.


Distribution of trade by Member State

Amongst the EU Member States, Germany accounted for a quarter of all extra-EU exports followed at some distance by Belgium (13 %), the United Kingdom (11 %), France and Ireland (each 10 %). The highest growth rates in exports were recorded by Malta (45 %) and Romania (26 %). (See Table 2).

Three of the largest five exporters are also found among the top 5 importers. These are Belgium[1] (19 %), Germany (16 %) and the United Kingdom (11 %). Other large importers are the Netherlands (14 %) and Italy (10 %). Imports grew most for Luxembourg (22 %) while a group of ten countries had growth rates between 10 % and 20 %).

Main partners by Member State

The United States and Switzerland dominate in extra-EU imports and there is not very much variety in partners when looking at the separate Member States. The top three partners for each of the Member States consist of a group of twelve countries in total. Interestingly, South Korea, which is not among the top 6 extra-EU traders is the main partner for Croatia and Hungary. But with the exception of India, which is the main partner for Malta, the United States or Switzerland are the main partner for the other 25 Member States and occur as second or third partner for 22 Member States.

There is more variety in export partners where we find twenty different partners. Proximity seems to play an important role, with Russia being the top partner for a number of Member States in the Eastern part of Europe. Similarly, we find Bosnia and Herzegovina as partner of Croatia, Belarus for both Estonia and Lithuania and Serbia for Hungary. The Netherlands seems to have the most fragmented export market with its top three partners accounting for less than 20 % of its extra-EU exports.

Data sources and availability

This article is based on data available in EurostatCOMEXT database for the EU Member States and in United Nations’ COMTRADE database for the non-EU countries.

A code (such as ‘DS_018995’) is inserted as part of the source. This code allows the reader to easily access the most recent EU data on the Eurostat website. Note that data on the website is frequently updated and may also be more detailed or have a different measurement unit. It should also be noted that 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.

Product classification

Division 54 'Medicinal and pharmaceutical products' of the Standard international trade classification revision 4 (SITC Rev. 4), is made up of the sub-groups:

  • 5411 ‘Provitamins and vitamins (not put up as medicaments)’;
  • 5413 ‘Antibiotics (not put up as medicaments)’;
  • 5414 ‘Vegetable alkaloids (not put up as medicaments)’;
  • 5415 ‘Hormones, prostaglandins, thromboxanes and leukotrienes’;
  • 5416 ‘Glycosides; glands or other organs; antisera, vaccines;
  • 5419 ‘Pharmaceutical goods, other than medicaments’;
  • 5421 ‘Medicaments containing antibiotics’;
  • 5422 ‘Medicaments containing hormones, etc., but not antibiotics’;
  • 5423 ‘Medicaments containing alkaloids, but not containing hormones etc. or antibiotics’;
  • 5429 ‘Medicaments not elsewhere specified’.

Unit of measure

Trade values are expressed in millions (106) 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.

A bias in the geographical allocation of extra-EU flows

Extra-EU imports and exports are reported by the Member State where the customs declaration is lodged, usually the place where the goods cross the EU external frontier (here referred to as the exit/entry Member State). This is not necessarily the Member State of actual import or export. The geographical allocation of an extra-EU flow is biased in the case the entry/exit Member State is not the actual importing/exporting Member State. In such a case, the extra-EU trade will be allocated to the entry/exit Member State and the actual importing/exporting Member State will report only intra-EU flows with the exit/entry Member State. This issue particularly impacts the extra-EU imports of Member States having important ports for transhipment of goods like Antwerp in Belgium and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. This is why it is known as the ‘Rotterdam effect’.

Context

Pharmaceutical products are among the most important products within the chemicals sector (SITC section 5). Today, the pharmaceutical sector is extensively regulated at EU level in the dual interest of ensuring the highest possible level of public health and patient confidence in safe, effective and high-quality medicinal products, while continuing to develop a single EU market for pharmaceuticals in order to strengthen the European pharmaceutical industry's competitiveness and research capability.

The most common trade impediments faced by pharmaceutical exporters are a range of burdensome and costly registration, licensing and certification procedures. The EU aims to redress these through its bilateral trade agreements or by tackling individual barriers as part of its market access partnership.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Data visualisation

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

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

External links

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.

References

  1. Belgian imports can be overestimated due to the so-called "Rotterdam effect" (See Data sources and availability for more details)