Extra-EU trade in primary goods


Data from April 2020

Planned update April 2021

Highlights
In trade between the EU and non-Member States, primary goods made up 15 % of all EU exports and 29 % of EU imports in 2019.

The United Kingdom was the main EU-27 trading partner for food and drink among the non-EU Member States in 2019.

The major energy provider in 2019 for the EU was Russia (27 % of total imports), while the major providers of raw materials for the EU were the United States (13 % of total imports) and Brazil (10 % of total imports).

EU-27 trade in primary goods, 2009-2019

This article focuses on the structure and evolution of the European Union (EU) international trade in primary goods: imports and exports at EU level. Primary goods, also called commodities, are goods sold for production or consumption just as they were found in nature; they include crude oil, coal, iron, and agricultural products like wheat or cotton.

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

EU is a net importer of primary goods

In 2019 the main partner for EU-27 exports of primary goods was the United Kingdom (17 %) followed by the United States (11 %) and China (7 %), see Figure 1. Russia (19 %) was the largest origin of EU-27 imports of primary goods followed at some distance by the United Kingdom (8 %) and the United States (7 %).

Figure 1: EU-27 main trade partners in primary goods, 2019
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-018995)

In 2019 the EU exported EUR 321 billion of primary goods to, and imported EUR 560 billion of primary goods from countries outside the EU (see Figure 2). Compared with 2018, exports increased by EUR 4 billion, while imports decreased by EUR 27 billion. Thus the trade deficit was reduced by EUR 31 billion from EUR 270 billion in 2018 to EUR 239 billion in 2019.

Figure 2: EU-27 trade in primary goods, 2009-2019
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-018995)

The share of primary products in total extra EU exports was 14 % in 2009 and peaked at 17 % in 2012 and 2013. Between 2017 to 2019 it was stable at 15 % (see Figure 3). In contrast, there was more fluctuation of the share of primary products in total extra EU imports. It was 34 % in 2009, peaking at 41 % in 2012 and had a minimum of 27 % in 2016. In 2019 the share was 29 %. These fluctuations are partly related to changing prices of primary goods.

Figure 3: Share of primary goods in total extra-EU trade, 2009-2019
(%)
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-018995)

Exports of primary products consisted of 51 % of food and drink, followed by 32 % of energy and 17 % of raw materials (see Figure 4) in 2019. In imports of primary products the share for energy was 65 %, followed by 21 % for food and drink and 14 % for raw materials.

Figure 4: EU-27 trade in primary goods by main groups, 2019
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-018995)

The remainder of the article will look at the development and the top trading partners of the EU-27 in the three groups distinguished in primary goods: food and drink, raw materials and energy products.

Food and drink: the United Kingdom main partner for EU trade

Product group ‘food and drink’ (SITC Sections 0 and 1) includes agricultural products such as food and live animals, beverages and tobacco.

Trade in food and drink grew rapidly in the last ten years, especially between 2009 and 2012, with exports growing stronger than imports (see Figure 5). Exports almost doubled from EUR 83 billion in 2009 to EUR 163 billion in 2019. Imports grew not as fast but still by almost 60 % from EUR 74 billion to EUR 118 billion. The EU was a net exporter during the whole period and the trade surplus reached a peak of EUR 45 billion in 2019.

Figure 5: EU-27 trade in food and drink, 2009-2019
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-018995)

The United Kingdom (24 %) was the main destination for EU exports of food and drink in 2019. Its share for exports was twice as much as that of the United States (12 %) and three times as much as that of China (8 %). The United Kingdom (15 %) was also the largest origin for imports of food and drink, well ahead of Brazil (7 %) the United States and Norway (both 6 %).

Figure 6: EU-27 main trade partners in food and drink, 2019
(% and EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (TET00034)


More details on trade in food and drink can be found in this article on agricultural goods.

Raw materials: EU imports most from the United States and Brazil

Raw materials (SITC Sections 2 and 4) include non-manufactured goods like oilseeds, cork, wood, pulp, textile fibres, ores and other minerals as well as animal and vegetable oils.

The EU had an ongoing trade deficit in raw materials (see Figure 7). Both imports (EUR 46 billion) and exports (EUR 30 billion) were at a low in 2009 and after an initial recovery started to decline until 2016. After that they increased again and both exports (EUR 54 billion) and imports (EUR 81 billion) peaked in 2019. The trade deficit was EUR 16 billion in 2009 and peaked at 27 billion in 2011, falling to EUR 26 billion in 2019.

Figure 7: EU-27 trade in raw materials, 2009-2019
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-018995)

China, with 18 %, was the largest export destination of raw materials from the EU, followed by the United Kingdom with 13 % (see Figure 8). EU imports of raw materials came mainly from the United States and Brazil with 13 % and 10 % respectively.

Figure 8: EU-27 main trade partners in raw materials, 2019
(% and EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-018995)


More details on trade in raw materials can be found in this article on raw materials.

Energy products: Russia main partner for EU imports of energy

The main goods of energy products (SITC Section 3) are crude oil, refined petroleum products, coal, gas and electric current.

The EU is dependent on imports of energy products. This has led to a structural trade deficit, which reached a record level of EUR 395 billion in 2012 (see Figure 9). The value of imports closely followed the price of crude oil which explains the decline of the trade deficit between 2012 and 2016 when it reached EUR 179 billion. However, in 2019 it had increased to EUR 258 billion.

Figure 9: EU-27 trade in energy products, 2009-2019
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-018995)

In 2019, the major provider for EU imports of energy was Russia (27 % of the imports in 2019) followed by the United States, Norway, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria (all 6%). The United States (12 %) and the United Kingdom (10 %) were the main destinations of EU exports of energy.

Figure 10: EU-27 main trade partners in energy products, 2019
(% and EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (Comext data code: DS-018995)


More details on trade in energy can be found in this article on EU imports of energy products.

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

The Standard international trade classification (SITC) distinguishes five main categories (sections) of primary goods:

  • food and live animals (SITC 0 );
  • beverages and tobacco (SITC 1);
  • crude materials, excluding fuels (SITC 2);
  • mineral fuels (SITC 3);
  • animal and vegetable oils, fats and waxes (SITC 4).

Sections 0 and 1 are often grouped together as 'food and drink', 2 and 4 as 'raw materials'.

Data sources

EU data come from Eurostat’s COMEXT database. COMEXT is the Eurostat reference database for international trade. 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 from Eurostat website are compiled from COMEXT data according to a monthly process. Because COMEXT is updated on a daily basis, data published on the website may differ from data stored in COMEXT in case of recent revisions.

EU data are compiled according to community guidelines and may, therefore, differ from national data published by Member States. Statistics on extra-EU trade are calculated as the sum of trade of each of the 27 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 among Member States within it the EU.

The EU-27 data reflect the political change in the EU composition. Therefore the United Kingdom is considered as an extra-EU partner country for the EU-27. However, the United Kingdom is still part of the internal market until the end of the transitory period, meaning that data on trade with the United Kingdom are still based on statistical concepts applicable to trade between the EU Member States. As a consequence, while imports from any other extra-EU-27 trade partner are grouped by country of origin, the United Kingdom data reflect 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.

Context

Primary goods belong to three categories of products: agricultural products, raw materials and energy. The EU is the world’s foremost trader in agricultural products. Europe imports mostly basic agricultural commodities, but its exports are based on high-quality farm products and other processed agricultural products. Recognising the crucial role that agriculture plays in many developing countries, the EU has granted extensive market access to agricultural imports from developing countries. The European Union, due to the characteristics of the European industrial base, is highly dependent on imports of raw materials for its competitiveness and for its economic development. An increase in worldwide demand in raw materials in the future is expected; this increase will be largely due to economic growth in emerging economies. The European Union is also dependent on imports of energy from other countries. One of the key priorities is therefore to run a strategic international energy policy which leads to stable and secure supply routes.

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