China-EU - international trade in goods statistics
Data extracted in March 2019.
Planned article update March 2020.
Imports, exports and trade balance in goods between the EU and China, 2008-2018
This article provides a picture of the international trade in goods between the European Union (EU) and China. It analyses the type of goods exchanged between the two economies and the shares of each EU Member State in those exchanges.
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.
EU and China in world trade in goods
Figure 1 shows the world largest traders. China (EUR 2 004 billion, 16 %) was the largest exporter in the world, followed by the EU (EUR 1 879 billion, 15 %), the United States (EUR 1 368 billion, 11 %), Japan (EUR 618 billion, 5 %) and South Korea (EUR 508 billion, 4 %). China (EUR 1 632 billion, 13 %) was the third largest importer in the world, preceded by the United States (EUR 2 131 billion, 17 %) and the EU (EUR 1 857 billion, 15 %) and followed by Japan (EUR 594 billion, 5 %) and Hong Kong (EUR 522 billion, 4 %).
Figure 2 shows the imports and exports of the EU and China indexed at 100 in 2007 for the period to 2017. It also shows the cover ratio (exports / imports) for this period. Exports from the EU were lowest in 2009 (89) and highest in 2017 (152). Imports to the EU were lowest in 2009 (85) and highest in 2017 (128). The cover ratio for the EU was lowest in 2008 (83 %) and highest in 2015 (104 %) and was 101 % in 2017. Exports from China were lowest in 2009 (97) and highest in 2015 (230) and was 225 in 2017. Imports to China were lowest in 2007 (100) and highest in 2017 (234). The cover ratio for China was lowest in 2011 (109 %) and highest in 2015 (135 %) and was 123 % in 2017.
Both exports to and imports from China rose between 2008 and 2018
Figure 3 shows the position of China among the largest trade partners of the EU. China (11 %) was the second largest partner for EU exports of goods. It was preceded by the United States (21 %) and followed by Switzerland (8 %), Russia (4 %) and Turkey (4 %). It was the largest partner for EU imports of goods (20 %), followed by the United States (13 %), Russia (8 %), Switzerland (6 %) and Norway (4 %).
Figure 4 shows exports, imports and trade balance between the EU and China. In 2008 the EU had a trade deficit with China of EUR 171 billion. This remained a deficit throughout the whole period, reaching EUR 185 billion in 2018. EU exports to China were highest in 2018 (EUR 210 billion) and lowest in 2008 (EUR 78 billion). EU imports from China were highest in 2018 (EUR 395 billion) and lowest in 2009 (EUR 215 billion).
EU-China trade by type of goods
Figure 5 shows the breakdown of EU trade with China by SITC groups. The red colours denote the primary products: food & drink, raw materials and energy, while the blue colours show the manufactured goods: chemicals, machinery & vehicles and other manufactured goods. Finally, other goods are shown in green. In 2018, EU exports of manufactured goods (84 %) had a higher share than primary goods (12 %). The most exported manufactured goods were machinery & vehicles (53 %), followed by other manufactured products (18 %) and chemicals (13 %). In 2018, EU imports of manufactured goods (97 %) also had a higher share than primary goods (2 %). The most imported manufactured goods were machinery & vehicles (53 %), followed by other manufactured products (39 %) and chemicals (5 %).
Figure 6 shows the evolution of EU imports and exports by SITC group since 2008. In 2018, the EU had trade surpluses in raw materials (EUR 6.9 billion), other products (EUR 6.0 billion), chemicals (EUR 5.4 billion), energy (EUR 5.3 billion) and food & drink (EUR 4.5 billion). The EU had trade deficits in machinery & vehicles (EUR 97.4 billion) and other manufactured products (EUR 115.5 billion).
EU-China most traded goods
Another interesting way to look at the data is to investigate the cover ratio (exports / imports) of traded goods, showing the direction of the trade flows between the two economies. These ratios can be found in the right-hand margin of Figure 7. Twelve products have ratios below 50, indicating EU imports from China are at least twice a large as EU exports to China. Six products have ratios above 200, indicating EU exports to China are at least twice as large as EU imports from China. Two products have ratios between 50 and 200, showing more balanced trade.
Trade with China by Member State
Figure 8a shows the EU imports from China by Member State. The three largest importers from China in the EU were the Netherlands (EUR 85 280 million), Germany (EUR 75 467 million) and the United Kingdom (EUR 53 320 million). Czechia (36 %) held the highest share for China in its total extra-EU imports.
Figure 8b shows the EU exports to China by Member State. The three largest exporters to China in the EU were Germany (EUR 93 715 million), the United Kingdom (EUR 23 365 million) and France (EUR 20 850 million). Germany (17 %) held the highest share for China in its total extra-EU exports.
Figure 8c shows the trade balance between the EU Member States and China. Three Member States had a trade surplus with China. The largest was held by Germany (EUR 18 248 million), followed by Finland (EUR 1 448 million) and Ireland (EUR 1 013 million). Twenty-five Member States had a trade deficit with China. The largest was held by the Netherlands (EUR 74 157 million), followed by the United Kingdom (EUR 29 955 million) and Italy (EUR 17 611 million).
Source data for tables and graphs
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.
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 the event 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 bloc 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 (t_ext_go), see:
- 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 (ext_go), see:
- 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)
- International trade in goods statistics - background
- International trade in goods (ESMS metadata file — ext_go_esms)
- User guide on European statistics on international trade in goods