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EU position in world trade

The EU is in prime position when it comes to global trade. The openness of our 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.

The EU has achieved a strong position by acting together with one voice on the global stage, rather than with 28 separate trade strategies.

Europe has become deeply integrated into global markets. 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.

Workers often deliver their services across different countries within a multinational or by specific service contracts.

As investors thrive in a stable, sound and predictable environment, they are looking for investment barriers to be dismantled and investments to be protected.

  • Every day, Europe exports hundred of millions of euros worth of goods and imports hundreds of millions more.
  • Europe is the world's largest exporter of manufactured goods and services, and is itself the biggest export market for around 80 countries.
  • Together, the European Union's 28 members account for 16% of world imports and exports.
Trade in goods and commercial services 2012
Trade in goods and commercial services 2012, € billions
Country or region Imports Exports
EU 1956 1882
United States 1762 1358
China 1197 1319
Japan 641 685
South Korea 392 417

Why does it matter?

  • The development of trade - if properly managed - is an opportunity for economic growth. So EU trade policy seeks to create growth and jobs by increasing the opportunities for trade and investment with the rest of the world.
  • By working together, Europe has the weight to shape an open global trading system based on fair rules – and to ensure that those rules are respected.
  • The EU’s success is inextricably bound up with the success of our trading partners, both in the developed and developing world. For this reason, sustainable development is central to trade policy.

Facts and figures on the EU’s position in global markets

Share of world FDI in 2010 (%)
Share of Foreign Direct Investment in 2010
Country / region Inward stock (%) Outward stock (%)
EU 24.4 32.6
US 21.3 28.5
Lat Am 8.1 2.4
China 3.6 1.7
Japan 1.3 4.9
  • The EU is the largest economy in the world. Although growth is projected to be slow, the EU remains the largest economy in the world with a GDP per head of €25 000 for its 500 million consumers.
  • The EU is the world's largest trading block. The EU is the world’s largest trader of manufactured goods and services.
  • The EU ranks first in both inbound and outbound international investments
  • The EU is the top trading partner for 80 countries. By comparison the US is the top trading partner for a little over 20 countries.
  • The EU is the most open to developing countries. Fuels excluded, the EU imports more from developing countries than the USA, Canada, Japan and China put together.

The EU benefits from being one of the most open economies in the world and remains committed to free trade.

  • The average applied tariff for goods imported into the EU is very low. More than 70% of imports enter the EU at zero or reduced tariffs.
  • The EU’s services markets are highly open and we have arguably the most open investment regime in the world.
  • The EU has not reacted to the crisis by closing markets. However some the EU’s trading partners have not been so restrained as the EU has highlighted in the Trade and Investment Barriers Report and the report on protectionism.
  • In fact the EU has retained its capacity to conclude and implement trade agreements. The recent Free Trade Agreements with South Korea and with Singapore are examples of this and the EU has an ambitious agenda of trade agreements in the pipeline.

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