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EU and main world traders

Data extracted in October 2020

Planned update: October 2021

Highlights


The EU-27, the United States and China together accounted for 42 % of exports and 43 % of imports of goods globally in 2019.

Machinery and vehicles were the most traded goods in 2019 for the EU, the United States and China.

Import and export of goods shares for main trading countries, 2019
(%)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introeu27_2020) and UNCTAD

International trade — especially the size and evolution of imports and exports — is an important indicator of a country’s economic performance, showing its status on the international stage.

This article takes a closer look at recent trends in the imports and exports of goods by several of the world’s largest economies, focusing on key trade statistics for goods and giving an insight into EU trading patterns compared to the world’s major economies. The article only deals with extra-EU trade, and does not consider trade between EU Member States (intra-EU trade).

This article is part of the online publication International trade in goods - a statistical picture which provides 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

Main world traders: EU, USA and China

In 2019, the EU-27, the United States and China recorded by far the world’s highest trade in goods values. Together, these countries accounted for around 42 % of global exports and 43 % of global imports of goods (see Figure 1).</newarticle>

Figure 1: Import and export of goods shares for main trading countries, 2019
(%)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introeu27_2020) and UNCTAD

In 2019, China recorded the world’s highest export values at EUR 2 239 billion, followed by the EU and the United States, which recorded values of EUR 2 132 billion and EUR 1 469 billion respectively (see Figure 2). Looking at imports by value, the United States had a higher value (EUR 2 293 billion) than the EU (EUR 1 938 billion) and China (EUR 1 855 billion). The United States also recorded the highest trade deficit (EUR 825 billion), followed by the United Kingdom (EUR 201 billion) and India (EUR 139 billion). Among the countries shown, Hong Kong (EUR 38 billion), Japan (EUR 14 billion) and Canada (EUR 6 billion) also had trade deficits. The largest trade surpluses were recorded by China (EUR 384 billion), the EU (EUR 194 billion) and Russia (EUR 162 billion). South Korea (EUR 35 billion) and Singapore (EUR 28 billion) and Mexico (EUR 4 billion) also had a trade surplus.

Figure 2: Imports, exports and trade balance in goods by country, 2019
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introeu27_2020) and UNCTAD

The United States has traditionally been a major exporting economy, but its significance was already smaller than that of the EU and China in 2009 (see Figure 3a). The United States' share in total exports increased slightly from 10.6 % to 11.0 % in 2015 and 2016 but decreased back to 10.6 % in 2019. The steady growth of China’s exports saw it overtaking the EU in 2015, reaching a peak of 16.2 % in 2019. The EU had a share of 16.6 % in 2009 which dropped to 14.7 % in 2012 and since 2013 hovered between 15 % and 16 %. The national export shares of the other main traders are shown separately in Figure 3b to give some more detail.


Figure 3a: Share of national exports in world exports of goods, 2009-2019
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introeu27_2020) and UNCTAD


Figure 3b: Share of national exports in world exports of goods, details, 2009-2019
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introeu27_2020)

China’s share in world imports has also increased, from 9.9 % in 2009 to 13.1 % in 2019 narrowing the gap with the EU and the United States (see Figure 4a). The United States remains the largest importer of goods, its share rose from 15.8 % in 2009 to 16.2 % in 2019. The EU saw a large reduction from 16.4 % in 2009 to 13.7 % in 2019. The import shares of the other main traders are shown separately in Figure 4b to give some more details.

Figure 4a: Share of national imports in world imports of goods, 2009-2019
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introeu27_2020) and UNCTAD


Figure 4b: Share of national imports in world imports of goods, details, 2009-2019
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introeu27_2020) and UNCTAD

EU-27 trade over time and by product group

Trade over time in the EU-27

In 2009 the EU had a trade in goods deficit of EUR 9 billion (see Figure 5). The average annual growth rate of EU exports was 6.1 % between 2009 and 2019. The corresponding growth of imports was 5.0 %. This resulted in a trade surplus of EUR 194 billion in 2019.

Figure 5: Evolution of EU-27 imports, exports and trade in goods balance, 2009-2019
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introeu27_2020)

Trade by SITC group in the EU-27

In 2019, machinery and vehicles was the EU’s most exported product group (EUR 872 billion) and made up 41 % of total exports (see Figure 6), while other manufactured products accounted for 23 % (EUR 486 billion) and chemicals for 19 % (EUR 408 billion). The combined share of manufactured goods made up 83 % of total EU exports in 2019.

Manufactured products (chemicals, machinery and vehicles and other manufactured products) also made up the majority of EU imports (69 %) in 2019. The share of other manufactured products (24 %) was 1 percentage point higher in imports than in exports. Import shares in machinery and vehicles(33 %) as well as chemicals (12 % ) were smaller than the corresponding export shares. The EU was the largest importer of energy (19 % worth EUR 362 billion) ahead of China (EUR 317 billion) and the United States (EUR 188 billion).

In 2019, the EU had a trade deficit in primary goods and a trade surplus in manufactured products (chemicals, machinery and vehicles and other manufactured products). The deficit in primary goods was largely due to the deficit in energy (EUR 259 billion) and too a much lesser extent in raw materials (EUR 26 billion), while recording a surplus in food & drink (EUR 45 billion). The surplus in manufactured goods came from machinery and vehicles (EUR 234 billion) and chemicals (EUR 172 billion) and too a lesser extent in other manufactured goods (EUR 13 billion).

Figure 6: Trade by SITC group, EU-27, 2018 and 2019
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introeu27_2020)

United States trade over time and by product group

Trade over time in the United States

In 2009, the United States had a trade in goods deficit of EUR 391 billion (see Figure 7). The average annual growth rate of its exports was 6.8 % between 2009 and 2019. The corresponding growth of imports was 7.2 %. This caused the trade deficit to grow to EUR 825 billion in 2019.

Figure 7: Evolution of United States' imports, exports and trade in goods balance, 2009-2019
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introeu27_2020)

Trade by SITC group in the United States

In the United States in 2019, machinery and vehicles (EUR 478 billion), other manufactured products (EUR 271 billion) and chemicals (EUR 200 billion) were the most exported products (see Figure 8). Combined they accounted for almost two thirds of all exports. The same products were also the top three in imports, where combined machinery and vehicles (EUR 972 billion), other manufactured products (EUR 608 billion) and chemicals (EUR 243 billion) accounted for 79 % of all imports. With EUR 243 billion, the United States was the largest importer in the world of chemicals ahead of the EU (EUR 235 billion) and China (EUR 195 billion).

Just like the EU, in 2019 the United States had a trade deficit for energy (EUR 9 billion), however there were much larger deficits for machinery and vehicles (EUR 494 billion) and for other manufactured products (EUR 337 billion) as shown in Figure 8. The United States only had a trade surplus in raw materials (EUR 31 billion) and other goods (EUR 62 billion).

Figure 8: Trade by SITC group, United States, 2018 and 2019
(EUR billion)
Source:: Eurostat (ext_lt_introeu27_2020)

China trade over time and by product group

Trade over time in China

In 2009 China had a trade in goods surplus of EUR 141 billion (see Figure 9). The average annual growth rate of its exports was 10.0 % between 2009 and 2019. The corresponding growth of imports was 9.9 %. This increased the surplus to EUR 384 billion in 2019 after having peaked at EUR 535 billion in 2015.

Figure 9: Evolution of Chinese imports, exports and trade in goods balance, 2009-2019
(EUR billion)
Source: UNCTAD

Trade by SITC group in China

Approximately 94 % of China’s exports in 2019 were concentrated in manufactured goods. Machinery and vehicles (EUR 1 049 billion, 47 %) was the largest group, followed by other manufactured products (EUR 918 billion, 41 %) and chemicals (EUR 149 billion, 7 %) as shown in Figure 10. China was the world’s leading exporter in machinery and vehicles and in other manufactured goods. In the latter its export value was higher than that of the EU and the United States combined.

China’s largest imports were also in machinery and vehicles (EUR 668 billion, 36 % of total imports) while the second largest imports were in energy (EUR 317 billion, 17 %). These were followed by raw materials (EUR 298 billion, 16 %), other manufactured products (EUR 255 billion, 14 %) and chemicals (EUR 195 billion, 11 %). Imports of other goods (EUR 49 billion, 3 %) and food and drink (EUR 72 billion, 3.9 %) were smaller. In 2019, China was the world’s leading importer of raw materials (EUR 298), importing more than twice as much as the EU (EUR 81 billion) and the United States (EUR 39 billion) combined.

China registered large trade surpluses in machinery and vehicles (EUR 381 billion) and especially in other manufactured products (EUR 663 billion). The largest trade deficits were recorded for raw materials (EUR 282 billion) and energy (EUR 278 billion).

Figure 10: Trade by SITC group, China, 2018 and 2019
(EUR billion)
Source: UNCTAD

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 27 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 UNCTAD database of the United Nations. For the calculation of shares the world trade is defined as the sum of EU -27 trade with non-EU countries (source: Eurostat) plus the international trade of non-EU countries (source: UNCTAD).

Methodology According to the EU concept 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 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.

Context

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 27 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.

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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)