Extra-EU trade in goods - Statistics Explained

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Extra-EU trade in goods

Data from March 2020.

Planned update: March 2021.


EU exports grew faster than imports and consequently the trade balance increased from EUR + 152 billion in 2018 to EUR 197 billion in 2019.

The main destination for EU-27 exports in 2019 were other European countries accounting for just over one third of the total, followed by Asia (28 %) and North America (25 %).

International trade - especially the size and evolution of imports and exports - is an important indicator of the performance of the European Union (EU) economy, showing how it interacts with other countries and its position.

This article takes a close look at recent trends in imports and exports, focusing on extra-EU trade, the main trading partners, and the most traded products.

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

Evolution of extra-EU trade

European Union trade in goods recovered in both imports and exports after the financial turmoil of 2008 (see Figure 1). However, between 2012 and 2016 imports fell, while exports grew. As a result, from 2012 to 2019 the EU trade balance was positive, while between the beginning of the series in 2009 and 2011 it was negative. In 2019, exports grew more than imports and consequently the trade surplus of EUR 152 billion increased to EUR 197 billion.

Figure 1: Evolution of extra EU-27 trade, 2009-2019
(EUR billion) - Source: Eurostat (Comext DS-063325)

In 2019, about 40 % of EU imports came from Asian countries while other European countries accounted for 31 % and North America for 17 % (see Figure 2). The main destination for EU exports in 2019 were other European countries with just over one third of the total, followed by Asia (28 %) and North America (25 %). The EU had a considerable deficit in trade with Asian countries, while the largest surplus is recorded in trade with North America.

Figure 2: EU-27 trade by geographical zone, 2009 and 2019
(EUR billion) - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_maineu)

Main EU partners

In 2019, the USA was the EU’s major trading partner in exports (see Figure 3). Its share was relatively stable between 2009 and 2013 but then grew every year with the exception of 2016 and reached 18 % in 2019. Between 2009 and 2019, China's share in extra-EU exports grew from 6 % to 9 %. The other partners in Figure 3 all saw their shares decline.

Figure 3: Main trading partners' shares of EU-27 exports, 2009-2019
(EUR billion) - Source: Eurostat (Comext DS-063325)

The EU's main import partner is China. Its share increased from 15 % of total extra-EU imports in 2009 to 19 % in 2019. Imports from the United States were around 10 % between 2009 and 2014 but then started growing, in 2019 they were 12 %. With the exception of Turkey, imports from other partners shown in Figure 4 all decreased.

Figure 4: Main trading partners' shares of EU-27 imports, 2009-2019
(EUR billion) - Source: Eurostat (Comext DS-063325)

The EU trade surplus with the United States grew from EUR 42 billion in 2009 to a record high of EUR 152 billion in 2019. (see Figure 5). The EU also had trade surpluses with the United Kingdom and Switzerland while trade with Turkey was almost balanced. With Russia the EU had a trade deficit (EUR 57 billion in 2019) mainly due to the imports of energy products. The trade deficit with China was EUR 164 billion in 2019, largely due to trade surpluses for manufactured goods.

Figure 5: Main trading partners' trade balance with the EU-27, 2009-2019
(EUR billion) - Source: Eurostat (Comext DS-063325)

EU trade by main product groups

Figures 6 and 7 show exports and imports by product group. The primary products (food and drink, raw materials and energy) are shown in red colours while the manufactured products (chemicals, machinery and vehicles and other manufactured goods) are shown in blue colours.

The EU exports mainly manufactured products: both in 2009 and 2019 their share was 83 % of total EU exports (see Figure 6). In 2019, machinery and vehicles made up 41 % of the total exports while other manufactured goods accounted for 23 % and chemical products for 19 %. Primary products accounted for almost 16 % of total exports. This category is made up of food and drink (8 %), energy products (5 %) and raw materials (3 %).

Figure 6: EU-27 exports by product group, 2009 and 2019
(%) - Source: Eurostat (Comext DS-063325)

The majority of EU imports are also manufactured goods (see Figure 7). Their share in total EU imports increased from 63 % in 2009 to 69 % in 2019. The breakdown diverges from exports: machinery and vehicles (33 %) and chemical products (12 %) have smaller shares while the share of other manufactured goods (24 %) is similar to that for exports. The share of energy in imports has significantly decreased in recent years. In 2009 it accounted for 24 % of imports, while in 2019 the share had fallen to 19 %. This decrease is closely related to the fall of the oil price in this period.

Figure 7: EU-27 imports by product group, 2009 and 2019
(%) - Source: Eurostat (Comext DS-063325)

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.

The United Kingdom is considered as an extra-EU partner country for the EU-27 for the whole period covered by this article. However, the United Kingdom was still part of the internal market until the end of the transitory period (31 December 2020), meaning that data on trade with the United Kingdom are still based on statistical concepts applicable to trade between the EU Member States. Consequently, while imports from any other extra-EU-27 trade partner are grouped by country of origin, the United Kingdom data reflect the country of consignment. In practice this means that the goods imported by the EU-27 from the United Kingdom were physically transported from the United Kingdom but part of these goods could have been of other origin than the United Kingdom. For this reason, data on trade with the United Kingdom are not fully comparable with data on trade with other extra-EU-27 trade partners.

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.


Europe is the world's largest exporter of manufactured goods and services, and is itself the biggest export market for around 80 countries. Trade is an important indicator of Europe's prosperity and place in the world, and the bloc has become deeply integrated into global markets both for the products it sources and the exports it sells.

Because the 27 Member States of the European Union share a single market and a single external border, they also have a single trade policy. Both in the World Trade Organization, where the rules of international trade are agreed and enforced, and with individual trading partners, EU Member States speak and negotiate collectively.

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International trade data (t_ext)
International trade long-term indicators (t_ext_lti)
International trade short-term indicators (t_ext_sti)
International trade data (ext)
International trade long-term indicators (ext_lti)
International trade short-term indicators (ext_sti)
International trade detailed data (detail)