Culture statistics - international trade in cultural goods

Data extracted in December 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: February 2019.

Statistics on international trade in cultural goods enable the monitoring of the value of international exchanges of these goods and show the weight of cultural trade in the whole EU international trade.

This article analyses the data from 2011 to 2016, according to the revised scope of cultural goods, and presents the following information pertaining to international trade in cultural goods:

  • export and import values in absolute and in relative terms (EUR million and % of total trade);
  • extra-EU and intra-EU trade;
  • the type of cultural goods traded;
  • the EU’s main trading partners.
Table 1: Extra-EU trade in cultural goods, EU-28, 2011 and 2016
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prd)
Figure 1: Annual average growth rate of exports of cultural goods, 2011–16
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prd)
Figure 2: Annual average growth rate of imports of cultural goods, 2011–16
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prd)
Figure 3: Exports of cultural goods as a percentage of total exports, 2011 and 2016
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prd)
Figure 4: Imports of cultural goods as a percentage of total imports, 2011 and 2016
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prd)
Figure 5: Extra-EU and intra-EU exports of cultural goods, 2016
(% of total exports of cultural goods)
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prd)
Figure 6: Extra-EU and intra-EU imports of cultural goods, 2016
(% of total imports of cultural goods)
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prd)
Table 2: Exports of cultural goods by group of products, 2016
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prd)
Table 3: Imports of cultural goods by group of products, 2016
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prd)
Figure 7: Ten main partners in the extra EU-28 exports of cultural goods, 2011 and 2016
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prt)
Figure 8: Ten main partners in the extra EU-28 imports of cultural goods, 2011 and 2016
Source: Eurostat (cult_trd_prt)

Main statistical findings

Cultural trade 2011–2016, at EU and national levels

This article analyses recent statistics on cultural trade in the European Union (EU). The set of data is also available and presented for Albania, Serbia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey and Montenegro.

‘Cultural goods’ are the products of artistic creativity that convey artistic, symbolic and aesthetic values; examples are antiques, works of art, jewellery, books, newspapers, photos, films, music or video games. For film, music and video games, the category includes all the media, magnetic or optical, which are the support enabling access to these cultural contents. Musical instruments, which are not cultural goods in themselves but represent means of artistic expression are also included. Cultural goods exclude products of large scale manufacturing even if they facilitate access to cultural content (e.g. TV sets, CD players or smartphones).

Cultural goods do not penetrate markets and are not consumed by households in the same way as other more common products of mass consumption. The category is also very heterogeneous as concerns the values of its traded products. There is much lower demand for embroidery, maps, and architectural plans and drawings, for example, than for CDs, video games or jewellery. The differences in consumption characteristics of cultural products, the structure and specialisation of the economic sectors in different Member States, the technological innovations driving new consumption trends all have an impact on patterns of imports and exports of cultural goods.

In the EU international trade statistics, the term ‘goods’ means all movable property, i.e. products having a physical and tangible dimension. International trade in licenses and copyrights is therefore not included.

EU figures presented here exclude intra-EU trade. In other words, the EU is deemed to be a single entity and internal exchanges (between Member States) are not counted. However, national figures concern both intra- and extra-EU trade.

EU cultural trade - growing trade surplus

Over the 5-year period since 2011 till 2016, the EU’s cultural goods trade balance recorded a growing trade surplus from EUR 4.3 billion in 2011 to EUR 8.7 billion in 2016. This growth was reflected also in an increase of the export/import ratio from 1.3 to 1.5 (see Table 1) as a consequence of the significant increase in exports (from EUR 19.7 billion to EUR 26.8 billion). The imports also recorded a growth but at much more moderate pace (EUR 15.4 billion in 2011 and EUR 18.2 billion in 2016).

While the EU overall annual average growth rate (AAGR) was + 6.3 % for exports and + 3.3 % for imports, a growth breakdown by product revealed different trends. Between 2011 and 2016, growth rates were positive in both exports and imports for antiques, works of art, jewellery, photographic plates and films and musical instruments. Works of art with 15 % of yearly growth of exports since 2011 was one of the largest contributors to the significant rise of trade surplus in 2016. As regards newspapers, journals and periodicals, architecture plans and drawings and recorded media with music (e.g. CDs, magnetic tapes and gramophone records), despite the trade surplus, the AAGR between 2011 and 2016 was negative for both exports and imports. Audio-visual and interactive media (films, videos, video games and consoles) also recorded a fall in both trade flows, with a trade deficit persisting in 2016.

The strongly falling pattern in the import and export of newspapers, journals and periodicals and recorded media with music (CDs, magnetic tapes and gramophone records), respectively – 39 % and – 51 % of the 2011 import value, reflects changes in support media for cultural content, which is increasingly available in digital form via the internet. Architectural plans and drawings, knowing the strongest decrease in exports among all the analysed products (– 18.7 % per year) kept still in 2016 the highest export/import ratio (10 as compared to EU 1.5).

In the case of books, exports slightly increased while imports slightly decreased. Conversely, craft articles (with hand-made fabrics and ornamental articles) and maps displayed a decrease in exports and increase in imports.

Uneven trends in cultural trade at country level: from two-digit increase to two-digit fall

The analysis of time series for imports and exports of cultural goods between 2011 and 2016 at country level reveals trends from a two-digit increase to a two-digit fall.

17 EU Member States recorded a positive AAGR in exports. Poland, Latvia and Croatia had the highest cultural export AAGRs (+ 24 %, + 11 % and + 10 % respectively) between 2011 and 2016 (see Figure 1). In Poland, exports grew from around EUR 0.9 billion in 2011 to around EUR 2.5 billion in 2016 substantially due to increase in exports of audio-visual and interactive media (films, video games and video games consoles) and books. Among the falling rates in cultural exports between 2011 and 2016, Malta recorded the sharpest decrease by - 21 %. Relatively important annual drops were also noted in Finland (– 11 %), Austria (– 9 %), Denmark (– 8 %), Ireland (– 7 %) and Sweden (– 6 %). In Malta and Denmark the overall decrease was triggered by the fall affecting the trade of jewellery articles. In Austria, Ireland and Sweden the main cause was the drop in exports of audio-visual and interactive media (films, video games and consoles) while in Finland the fall was driven by the decrease in trade of both jewellery and audio-visual and interactive media.

Regarding imports, the AAGR of Poland’s cultural imports (+ 25 %) was by far the highest rate in the EU (in large part due to a big increase in imports of the films, videos, video games and consoles) (see Figure 2). The AAGR was positive in other 13 EU Member States and notably in Latvia, Croatia, Czech Republic and Lithuania. The steepest fall for imports (by more than – 5 % per year) was registered in 5 countries: Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Cyprus and Belgium, out of which the first three experienced also an important decrease in cultural exports.

Many factors may lead to a fall in imports or exports of cultural goods. The economic conjuncture, the digital shift for many support media and challenges created by new technologies, certainly affect the cultural consumption patterns and in consequence the composition of the basket of imports and exports of cultural goods.

Contribution of cultural trade to overall trade

Despite the growth in cultural trade value between 2011 and 2016, the extra-EU exports in cultural goods (see Figure 3) still accounted for quite a low proportion of total extra-EU exports (1.3 % in 2011 and 1.5 % in 2016).

At national level, only in the United Kingdom (3.7 %), France (1.8 %) and Italy (1.8 %) the proportions of cultural exports (both intra- and extra-EU) in 2016 were above the EU average (for extra-EU exports). The lowest shares were recorded in Luxembourg, Finland, Hungary and Romania.

As regards the evolution of cultural shares (intra- and extra-EU) at country level, the cultural exports of 15 EU Member States decreased between 2011 and 2016. Ireland, Cyprus, Malta and Austria stood out as seeing the biggest relative reductions of percentages, with the rates falling by almost a half. The contribution of cultural exports to total exports increased in the remaining 13 countries and the most significantly in France, Latvia, the United Kingdom and Poland.

At EU level, cultural goods made up 1.1 % of total extra-EU imports in 2016 compared to 0.9 % in 2011 (see Figure 4). In 12 Member States the weight of cultural imports in total imports (intra-EU and extra-EU) was greater in 2016 than in 2011. The contribution of cultural imports to total imports grew notably in Poland and in Latvia but the biggest proportion of cultural imports in total imports was recorded in the United Kingdom (1.5 %). Only three more countries registered shares slightly above the overall EU level: France, Luxembourg and Austria. The cultural imports made up the lowest percentage of total imports in Lithuania, Romania and Hungary.

Intra- and extra-EU trade

In 2016, EU Member States traded mainly with other EU members

EU trade can be analysed from two perspectives: as intra-EU trade (between EU Member States) and extra-EU trade (with non- EU countries). The ratio between the two is an indication of the heterogeneity of a country’s trade patterns and, to some extent, reflects its historical ties and geographical location. However, it is essential, therefore, that users interpret the indicator on intra- and extra-EU with caution, in particular for the phenomenon of quasi-transit (with relevance for some countries, e.g. the Netherlands).

In 2016, 48 % of overall Member States’ value of cultural exports came from trade with other EU countries, while 52 % were due to extra-EU exports (see Figure 5). It should be noted that the trade of the few biggest countries (the United Kingdom, Italy and France) impacted very strongly — by their size in the total trade — the overall EU figure. The result is different when the trade by partner is analysed for each country separately. In 22 Member States, at least 60 % of the value of cultural exports were made up of the trade with other EU Member States. In the case of Luxembourg, Slovakia and Poland, at least 90 % of cultural exports stem from the trade with EU partners. In Cyprus, the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, France and Finland, however, extra-EU exports exceeded intra-EU exports.

As regards EU Member States imports of cultural goods, in 2016, intra-EU trade (56 %) exceeded extra-EU trade (see Figure 6). Extra-EU imports predominated in only two EU Member States: the Netherlands (83 %) [1] and the United Kingdom (63 %). In the remaining EU Member States, the proportion of intra-EU cultural imports was predominant but varied a lot across countries ranging from 51 % in France to 93 % in Slovakia. 21 EU countries imported at least 70 % of cultural goods from other EU countries.

EU trade in cultural goods by product

Jewellery account for 40 % of extra-EU exports

In 2016, jewellery articles made of precious metal and precious stones were the leading category in extra-EU exports of cultural goods (40 %). Together with works of art, books and audio-visual and interactive media, they made up 85 % of extra-EU cultural exports. On the other hand, recorded media with music, photographic plates and films, maps and architectural plans and drawings did not exceed 2 % each (see Table 2).

When considering trade (intra- and extra-EU) of various categories of cultural goods at country level, data show that some EU Member States developed particular specialisations[2]. Jewellery accounted for the biggest share of cultural exports in 4 countries and notably in Cyprus (90 %) and Italy (76 %). Works of art were the main cultural goods exported from the United Kingdom (36 %). Books were the leading category of cultural exports from nine EU Member States, accounting for around 55 % in Latvia, Malta and Slovenia. 11 Member States recorded the highest proportions in exports of audio-visual and interactive media (including films, video, video games and consoles), with Ireland (75 %) and the Netherlands (74 %) ranking at the top (see footnote 1). Portugal had the biggest share of export value (37 %) coming from exports of craft articles (hand-made fabrics and ornamental articles). Estonia (42 %) and Finland (46 %) exported mostly newspapers, journals and periodicals. Finally, Greece equally shared 80 % of its exports among jewellery, works of art, books and audio-visual and interactive media (around 20 % each).

As for remaining minor groups of products, like antiques, musical instruments, recorded media with music (CDs, magnetic tapes and gramophone records), maps or architecture plans and photographic films, they amounted to shares not exceeding 10 %, except musical instruments in Romania (15 %) and recorded media with music in the Czech Republic (10 %).

Films, videos, video games and consoles are the most imported products in the majority of Member States

In 2016, the main categories of EU imports of cultural products from non-EU countries (extra-EU trade) were jewellery (35 %), films, video games and consoles (19 %), works of art (14 %) and books (10 %). These four categories together made up 77 % of the total extra-EU imports (see Table 3).

The Member States’ (intra- and extra-EU) import patterns appeared different than the EU figure that takes into account only extra-EU trade. In 15 EU Member States, films, videos, video games and consoles were the most traded category. 7 countries mostly imported jewellery while in 3 others the highest import values stem from the imports of craft articles. Luxembourg had the most imports made of works of art (42 %) while books accounted for the biggest shares of cultural imports in Belgium (27 %) and in Slovenia (31 %).

Main EU partners in cultural trade

Switzerland and the United States are the leading extra-EU markets for cultural exports

As regards extra EU partners of cultural exports, 28 % were earmarked for Switzerland and 26 % for the United States in 2016. Together with Hong Kong (10 %), these three countries accounted for 64 % of EU exports to non-EU countries (see Figure 7). Trade with the United States became even more significant between 2011 and 2016 (increasing from 18 % to 26 %), while the percentage for Switzerland and Hong Kong remained more or less stable. Between 2011 and 2016, the top 10 destinations for EU cultural exports (in which Qatar replaced Turkey) increased their share from 75 % to 81 % of the total.

Import  — China the biggest EU partner but losing importance

The highest proportion of extra-EU imports of cultural goods in 2016 was from China (mostly films, videos, video games and consoles), although this proportion decreased from 34 % in 2011 to 26 % in 2016 (see Figure  8). China was followed by Switzerland, whose share increased from 15 % in 2011 to 23 % in 2016 (mostly made up of jewellery articles) and overtook the United States (22 %). Mexico (which had been ranked tenth biggest source of imports of cultural goods in 2011 disappeared from the top 10 ranking in 2016 and was replaced by United Arab Emirates. Overall, sources of imports were more concentrated than destinations of exports: in 2016, the EU’s top 10 partners accounted for 93 % of its cultural imports.

Data sources and availability

Eurostat compiles data on international trade in cultural goods from its Comext database, which contains statistics on international trade in goods for the EU Member States, EFTA countries and candidate countries.

Comext database includes statistics on international trade in tangible goods. ‘Goods’ means all movable property (including gas and electricity). They are classified according to several product classifications what allows comparisons at EU and also at wider international level. Among the most commonly used classifications are the Harmonized System (HS) and the Combined Nomenclature (CN). The HS is specifically created for international trade purposes and uses six-digit product codes at the lowest level. The CN classification is designed to meet the needs of EU international trade statistics. It extends to eight-digit codes, of which the first six digits are identical to those in the HS.

The list of internationally traded cultural goods was established on the basis of CN. In the process of selection of cultural goods, the CN codes at the 8-digit level of disaggregation were identified within the 10 cultural domains acknowledged by the ESSnet-Culture final report (2012) (see methodology/metadata section). For the sake of consistency and in order to facilitate analysis of trends, the numerous goods identified were aggregated into 12 meaningful categories. The detailed list of cultural aggregates can be found in Annex 2 to Metadata on international trade in cultural goods.

The dimensions available in Comext database allow for the computation of the following indicators on imports and exports of cultural goods for declaring EU Member States and candidate countries:

  • value of trade in thousands of euros (THS_EUR);
  • percentage of country’s total trade (PC_TOT);
  • percentage of total EU-28 trade (PC_EU28);
  • percentage of total trade in cultural goods (PC).


Culture is one of Europe’s greatest strengths: it is a source of values, identity and a sense of belonging. It also contributes to people’s well-being, to social cohesion and inclusion. The cultural and creative sectors are a driver of economic growth, job creation and external trade.

That is why culture is becoming increasingly important at EU level. In accordance with article 167 of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU ‘shall contribute to the flowering of the cultures of the Member States, while respecting their national and regional diversity and at the same time bringing the common heritage to the fore’.

The EU supports these objectives through the Creative Europeprogramme, as well as a number of policy actions set out in the Work Plan for Culture (2015–2018). This Work Plan, adopted by EU Culture Ministers in December 2014, sets out the main priorities for European cooperation in cultural policy-making: inclusive and accessible culture, the promotion of cultural heritage, support to the flowering of the cultural and creative sectors, and the promotion of cultural diversity and of culture in EU external relations. The production of reliable, comparable and up-to-date cultural statistics which are the basis of sound cultural policy-making, is a cross-sectorial priority of this Work Plan.

Eurostat compiles culture statistics from several data collections conducted at EU level to provide policy-makers and other users with information on the main trends in employment, business, international trade, participation and consumption patterns in the field of culture.

Statistics on international trade in cultural goods allow us to assess the value of cultural goods traded between EU Member States (intra-EU trade) and between Member States and non-EU countries (extra-EU trade), and the impact of such trade in overall international trade.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Data visualisation



International trade in cultural goods (cult_trd)
Intra and extra-EU trade in cultural goods by product (cult_trd_prd)
Intra and extra-EU trade in cultural goods by product and partner (cult_trd_prt)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Identification of cultural goods

Figure 9: Cultural goods according to cultural domains

The ESSnet-Culture final report (2012) created a framework for culture statistics on the basis of cultural ‘activities’, which are intersections between ten cultural domains and six economic functions. Trade is an important aspect of the dissemination of culture and one of the six economic functions (together with creation, production/publishing, preservation, education and management/regulation).

Eurostat analysed ten cultural domains from a 'product perspective' in order to establish a list of internationally traded cultural goods. The analysis focused firstly on ‘artistic creation’, so it included products that convey and encompass symbolic, aesthetic, artistic and spiritual values (e.g. works of art or crafts). It also included some products that do not meet the ‘artistic creation’ criterion, but enable artistic expression or access to cultural content (e.g. musical instruments, CDs and DVDs). Equipment in the wider sense (e.g. TV sets, CD players, cameras) is excluded.

On the basis of these criteria, cultural goods and products were identified in seven domains (see Figure 9). The initial list of cultural goods was revised in 2016, with the aim to harmonise better EU methodological framework with that proposed by UNESCO. The Working Group ‘Culture statistics’ agreed with the addition to the list of cultural goods jewellery (of precious and semi-precious metals and stones), some hand-made ornamental articles and some goods with audio-visual content.

The impact of quasi-transit (the ‘Rotterdam effect’)

A Member State’s trade flows may be overvalued because of ‘quasi-transit’ trade. The country’s trade balance is not impacted, as the quasi-transit should increase by the same amount as the intra- and extra-EU trade flows (extra-EU imports followed by dispatches to the Member State of actual destination or arrivals from the Member State of actual export followed by extra-EU exports to the country of actual destination). Quasi-transit is known to impact mostly the Member States with big ports at the external EU border, in particular the Netherlands (hence its impact on figures is known as the ‘Rotterdam effect’). In line with Community rules and as the country where goods are released for free circulation, the Netherlands records goods arriving in Dutch ports and destined for other EU Member States as extra-EU imports and as intra-EU export dispatches them from the Netherlands to those Member States, even though there is no impact on its economy. Quasi-transit is known to affect imports more, but exports are also affected. In exceptional cases, customs clearance occurs not in the Member State of actual export but in the Member State from which the goods leave EU customs territory.

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

Other information

External links


  1. The high ranking of the Netherlands is due to the impact of quasi-transit of goods, i.e. the ‘Rotterdam effect’ affecting Member States with big ports at the EU’s external border (see the ‘Methodology/metadata’ section for more details).
  2. The exports and imports by EU Member State include all of the world’s countries as trading partners (including the other EU Member States) so the figures by country in Tables 2 and 3 are not the breakdown of the EU aggregates which only relate to extra-EU trade.