Africa-EU - international trade in goods statistics

Data extracted in September 2019.

Planned article update: September 2020.


In 2018, almost 70 % of goods exported from the EU to Africa were manufactured goods.

In 2018, over 65 % of goods imported to the EU from Africa were primary goods (food and drink, raw material and energy).

Northern Africa: largest trade in goods partner of the EU among the African regions in 2018.

EU-28, trade in goods exports, imports and balance with African countries, 2008-2018

This article provides a picture of international trade in goods between the European Union (EU) and Africa. It analyses the type of goods exchanged and the shares of each EU Member State in those exchanges. In this article the UN subdivision of Africa in five different regions is used (as shown in Map 1).

This article is part of an online publication providing recent statistics on international trade in goods, covering information on the EU's main partners, main products traded, specific characteristics of trade as well as background information.

Full article
Map 1: African regions according to the United Nations geoscheme.

Africa’s main trade in goods partner is the EU

The five largest trade in goods partners of Africa are shown in Figure 1. The EU was the largest partner for both exports (36 %) and imports (33 %). Trade among African countries accounted for 15 % of exports and 16 % of imports. For exports, the next four largest partners were China and India (both 9 %), the United States (7 %) and the United Arab Emirates (3 %). For imports China (13 %) was also the third largest partner. Here they were followed by the United States and India (both 5 %) and the United Arab Emirates (3 %).

Figure 1: African trade in goods: export and import shares with main partners, 2018 (%)
Source: UNCTAD

From the EU perspective, following the financial crisis, imports of goods from Africa fell more than exports and, consequently, the EU's trade in goods deficit with Africa nearly disappeared in 2009 (see Figure 2). After the crisis, both imports from and exports to Africa picked up, with imports growing slightly stronger. This trend continued until 2012, when the trade deficit reached EUR 37 billion. However, afterwards imports from Africa decreased, while exports continued to grow. The year 2014 was a turning point, when exports and imports were almost balanced. Two years later, in 2016, the EU had a record surplus in trade in goods (EUR 28 billion). After that, growing imports from Africa saw the trade surplus decline, falling to EUR 1 billion in 2018.

Figure 2: EU-28, trade in goods exports, imports and balance with African countries, 2008-2018 (EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat - Comext DS-018995

Manufactured goods dominate exports to Africa

In 2008, 76 % of goods exported from the EU to Africa were manufactured goods (see Figure 3). This share fell to 70 % in 2018, while the share of primary goods rose from 22 % to 29 %. The declining share of manufactured goods was mostly caused by the declining share of machinery and vehicles, from 42 % in 2008 to 36 % in 2018.

Figure 3: EU-28 exports to Africa by main product groups, 2018 (shares of total exports in value)
Source: Eurostat - Comext DS-018995

Primary goods dominate imports with Africa

For imports from Africa, primary goods are the largest group (see Figure 4). However, between 2008 and 2018 there share decreased from 75 % to 65 % mainly due to the decreasing share of energy. In the same period, the share of manufactured goods rose from 23 % to 31 %. This was due to increasing imports of machinery and vehicles from 6 % to 12 %.

Figure 4: EU-28 imports from Africa by main product groups, 2018 (shares of total exports in value)
Source: Eurostat - Comext DS-018995

Northern Africa largest trade in goods partner

EU exports of goods to Northern Africa rose from EUR 60 billion in 2008 to EUR 78 billion in 2018 (see Figure 5), equivalent to an average annual growth rate of 2.8 %. Among the five African regions, Eastern Africa (4.2 %) had the highest growth rate for exports. The growth rate for EU exports to Western Africa was 3.3 %, while for Southern Africa it was 1.6 %. Middle Africa (-1.9 %) saw a decline in exports of goods.

Figure 5: EU-28 exports of goods to African regions, 2008-2018 (EUR million)
Source: Eurostat - Comext DS-018995

In 2018, EU imports of goods from Africa stood at EUR 151 billion, although they had been as high as EUR 187 billion in 2012. Figure 6, depicting the evolution of imports in the five African regions, shows a decline of imports from Middle and Northern Africa, which was only partly offset by a growth of imports from Southern, Eastern and Western Africa. Although imports from Northern Africa fell, they still made up almost half of all imports from Africa

Figure 6: EU-28 imports of goods from African regions , 2008-2018 (EUR million)
Source: Eurostat - Comext DS-018995

In 2018, the EU had small trade in goods deficits of around EUR 2 billion with Middle Africa, Southern Africa and Western Africa. By contrast, there were trade in goods surpluses with Eastern Africa and Northern Africa, as shown in Figure 7. The trade balance with Northern Africa has varied strongly in the past 10 years; there was a deficit of EUR 30 billion in 2008 but only a tenth of that 1 year later. In 2014, it turned into a surplus, which peaked in 2016 at EUR 25 billion. However, by 2018 this had been reduced to EUR 6 billion.

Figure 7: EU-28 trade in goods balance with African regions, 2008-2018 (EUR million)
Source: Eurostat - Comext DS-018995

Spain, France, Germany and Italy largest EU trade in goods partners for Africa

France (EUR 26 billion), Germany (EUR 23 billion), Spain (EUR 19 billion) and Italy (EUR 18 billion) were the largest exporters of goods to Africa in 2018 (Figure 8). Portugal (29.0 %), Cyprus (23.9 %), Spain (18.7 %) and Malta (18.5 %) had the highest shares for exports to Africa in their total exports to countries outside the EU.

Figure 8: Exports of goods to Africa by Member State, 2018 (EUR million and %)
Source: Eurostat - Comext DS-018995

The four largest exporters were also the largest importers of goods from Africa in 2018 (Figure 9). Spain (EUR 27 billion) led, followed by France (EUR 25 billion), Italy (EUR 22 billion) and Germany (EUR 19 billion). The highest shares of imports from Africa in total extra-EU imports were found in Spain (20.1 %), Portugal (16.3 %), France (13.9 %) and Italy (12.7 %).

Figure 9: Imports of goods from Africa by Member State, 2018 (EUR million and %)
Source: Eurostat - Comext DS-018995

In 2018, 23 EU Member States had a trade in goods surplus with Africa. The highest surplus, EUR 4 billion, was found in both Belgium and Germany. The five countries that had a trade in goods deficit with Africa were Sweden (EUR 23 million), Slovenia (EUR 171 million), Italy (EUR 4 billion), the United Kingdom (EUR 7 billion) and Spain (EUR 9 billion).

Figure 10: Trade in goods balance with Africa by Member State, 2018 (EUR million)
Source: Eurostat - Comext DS-018995

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

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 from the perspective of Africa (as used in figure 1) is based on statistics from UNCTAD, combining data from UN Comtrade, IMF, Eurostat, UNCTADstat and UNCTAD secretariat calculations.

Methodology 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.

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)
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