International trade in goods by enterprise size
Data from November 2019.
Planned update: November 2020.
Share of SMEs in number of enterprises, %, 2012-2017
This article takes a look at recent European Union (EU) international trade in goods statistics from a very specific angle: the characteristics of the enterprises actively engaged in importing and exporting.
International trade in goods statistics play a vital role in the assessment of every economy. Combining them with additional information from other sources, particularly business statistics, significantly enriches them, providing a closer picture of traders and their characteristics such as size, sector of economic activity or level of concentration. This allows for a deeper analysis of the impact of trade on employment, production and value added which are essential in a globalised world where economies are increasingly interconnected. This first article in a series of articles on trade by enterprise characteristics focusses on trade by size class (in number of persons employed) of the enterprises involved in international trade in goods.
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.
The main findings presented in this section focus on trade in goods by employment size class in 2017. In trade by enterprise characteristics, four employment size classes are distinguished:
- Micro: enterprises with less than 10 persons employed
- Small: enterprises with 10 to 49 persons employed
- Medium: enterprises with 50 to 249 persons employed
- Large: enterprises with more than 250 persons employed
Together the first three size classes are known as small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
Before proceeding it is necessary to note that due to differences in the coverage of trade statistics and business registers it is not always possible to match the trading enterprises with enterprises in the business registers. Consequently, there remain a number of trading enterprises for which no size class is available. For that reason all figures and tables include numbers for the category 'unknown'.
In this article statistics for total trade in goods are presented, combining intra-EU to extra-EU trade, in Figure 1, Table 1 and Table 2. Figures 2 to 7 show statistics for intra-EU trade and, finally, Figures 8 to 13 show statistics for extra-EU trade.
Figure 1 shows the share of SMEs (consisting of the three size classes micro, small and medium) in total trade (intra-EU + extra-EU). This share is calculated on the basis of those Member States for which the data was available in all the years shown. Both for importing and exporting enterprises this value remained almost unchanged between 2012 and 2017. In 2017, the share for importing enterprises (98.5 %) was a little higher than that for exporting enterprises (97.8%).
Tables 1 and 2 show that, in 2017, the vast majority of importers and exporters of goods are SMEs and within the group of SMEs the majority are micro enterprises, followed by small and then by medium enterprises. Large enterprises are a small minority of the number of enterprises, but in many Member States account for the largest share in trade value among the four size classes.
The shares for the number of importing enterprises and value of imports by enterprise size class are shown in Table 1. Shares for small and medium enterprises did not vary much across countries. In the share for the number of micro enterprises, there was more variation. It was around 50 % in Czechia (53 %), and Luxembourg (49 %) but considerably higher in Slovenia, Sweden (both 84 %) and the Netherlands (86 %). The share for the number of large enterprises was below 5 % for all Member States except Czechia. There was more variation in the share of import values of the large enterprises which was lowest in Cyprus (17 %) and highest in France (69 %).
Table 2 shows the shares for the number of exporting enterprises and the value of exports by enterprise size class. Compared with imports, the shares for the number of exporting enterprises in most Member States are lower in the micro size class and higher in the other size classes. Comparing exporting and importing enterprises' shares in value shows that for most Member States they are lower for exporting enterprises in the micro and small size classes and higher in the large size class. In the medium size class, exporting enterprises have higher shares in value in 11 Member States and lower shares in 16 Member States, and are unknown in one.
Intra-EU trade in goods by size class
Please note that in Figures 2 and 3 (and further down in Figures 8 and 9) shares by size class are taken from the total, where as in the other tables and graphs shares are taken from the known size class, excluding the size class "unknown".
Large enterprises made up only 2.3 % of the number of enterprises in intra-EU imports in 2017 (Figure 2). They had 43.6 % of the value of imports which was slightly more than the 43.1 % of the SME's (combined micro, small and medium). Micro enterprises, although making up 54.1 % of the number of enterprises in intra-EU imports, had a share in the value of imports of only 11.2 %. For 0.7 % of the enterprises no size class could be established. These 'unknown' enterprises had the largest average imports per enterprise.
For intra-EU exports, the contribution of large enterprises to the total value was even higher than for imports (Figure 3). They accounted for 47.3 % of the trade value, although they represented only 3.7 % of the exporting enterprises. The other three groups each had lower shares in value for exports than for imports and in the case of the micro and small enterprises also smaller shares in the number of enterprises. Once again, the unknown enterprises had the highest average exports per enterprise. These average values per enterprise were higher for exporters than for importers in all size classes.
Intra-EU trade in goods by size class at Member State level
Figures 4 to 7 show the shares by size class in the number of enterprises and trade value for intra-EU trade. For each size class the share is calculated from the enterprises with known size classes. There are however also enterprises for which no size class can be determined. Their share (taken from the total population of enterprises in intra EU trade) is shown in the green bars below each graph. The height of the green bars thus indicates the uncertainty of the shares by size class.
The share of SMEs in the number of intra-EU importers was highest in Slovenia, Portugal (both 99.3 %) and Cyprus (99.4 %) and lowest in Czechia (91.2 %), Croatia (94.8 %), Luxembourg and France (both 95.6 %) (Figure 4). Czechia was the only country where the number of micro enterprises (34 %) was smaller than the number of small enterprises (35 %). Within the SMEs, there were notable differences in the shares of micro, small and medium enterprises across Member States. The share of SMEs in the value of intra-EU imports was highest in Latvia (83.3 %), Cyprus (80.4 %) and Estonia (79.6 %) and lowest in France (34.1 %), Germany (35.2 %) and Slovakia (44.5 %) (Figure 5). The share tended to be smaller in small Member States and larger in large Member States.
Figure 6 shows the share of SMEs in the number of intra-EU exporters. It is very similar to the corresponding Figure 4 for importing enterprises. This should not come as a great surprise since many trading enterprises are both exporting and importing. The shares were highest in Estonia (99.1 %), Slovenia (99.0 %), and the Netherlands (98.9 %) and lowest in Czechia (90.0 %), Croatia (93.6 %) and Malta (94.7 %). The share of SMEs in the value of exports inside the EU (Figure 7) was highest in Cyprus (81.8 %), Latvia (78.8 %) and Estonia (74.2 %) and lowest in France (24.9 %), Germany (26.9 %) and Slovakia (28.9 %). Comparing Figure 5 with Figure 7, for most countries, the share of large enterprises in trade value was larger in exports than in imports. This difference was highest in Ireland (66.6 % in exports, 26.6 % in imports). Only in three countries was the share of large enterprises higher in imports than in exports in 2017. These were Cyprus (18.2 % in exports, 19.6 % in imports), the Netherlands (32.0 % in exports, 32.6 % in imports) and the United Kingdom (49.4 % in exports, 52.7 % in imports).
Extra-EU trade in goods by size class
Compared with intra-EU trade, large enterprises in extra-EU trade had higher shares (both in number of enterprises and in trade value) in 2017. The share for importers (Figure 8) was 4.4 % in extra-EU compared with 2.3 % for intra-EU. Likewise, for exporters (Figure 9) it was 5.3 % for extra-EU compared to 3.7 % for intra-EU. The share in the value of extra-EU imports was 46.7 % (43.6 % for intra-EU) and in the value of extra-EU exports it was 58.2 % (47.3 % for intra-EU). However, the average value of trade per enterprise was smaller, not only for large exporters but also for medium, small and micro exporters. This was also the case for large importers, but the opposite was true for micro, small and medium importers.
Extra-EU trade in goods by size class at Member State level
Figures 10 to 13 show the shares by size class in the number of enterprises and trade value for extra-EU trade. For each size class the share is calculated from the enterprises with known size classes. There are however also enterprises for which no size class can be determined. Their share (taken from the total population of enterprises in extra EU trade) is shown in the green bars below each graph. The height of the green bars thus indicates the uncertainty of the shares by size class.
The share of SMEs in the number of extra-EU importers (Figure 10) was highest in Cyprus (98.7 %), Malta (98.4 %) and Greece (98.3 %) and lowest in Luxembourg and Czechia (both 94.2 %) and Germany (94.6 %). The share of SMEs in the value of imports from outside the EU (Figure 11) was highest in Cyprus (88.3 %), Estonia (79.4 %) and Latvia (68.3 %) and lowest in Slovakia (16.8 %), France (25.1 %) and Germany (31.0 %).
The share of SMEs in the number of enterprises exporting to outside the EU (Figure 12) was highest in Italy (98.5 %), Greece (98.0 %), Spain, Portugal, Estonia and Slovenia (all four 97.4 %) and lowest in Luxembourg (90.2 %), Slovakia and Romania (both 90.6 %). The share of SMEs in the value of exports to outside the EU (Figure 13) was highest in Cyprus (87.9 %), Estonia (79.7 %) and Latvia (74.5 %) and lowest in Slovakia (15.1 %), Germany (17.9 %) and France (19.3 %).
Source data for tables and graphs
Reporting of international trade in goods statistics by enterprise characteristics consists of a data collection independent from the monthly trade in goods statistics. This data collection has been included in the revised Intrastat (respectively Extrastat) Regulations published in 2009 that came into force for the reference year 2009 (respectively 2010) onwards. Until the reference year 2008, Member States are asked to compile specific indicators linking international trade in goods data and business register information on a voluntary basis.
The compilation of trade flows by enterprise characteristics is based on linking micro-data on intra- and extra-EU trade with structural information from business registers. The trade value of each trader, by product code and partner country, is combined with the main enterprise characteristics (economic activity and number of employees) retrieved from the business registers. Only aggregated results (e.g. no micro-data) are provided to Eurostat. Confidentiality is applied in the statistics disseminated to ensure that it is not possible to identify an enterprise or a trader.
The value of traded goods is calculated at the national frontier, on a FOB basis (free on board) for exports and a CIF (cost, insurance, freight) basis for imports. Hence, only incidental expenses (freight, insurance) are included and they are incurred for:
- exports in the part of the journey located on the territory of the Member State where the goods are exported from;
- imports in the part of the journey located outside the territory of the Member State where the goods are imported to.
Number of enterprises
The number of enterprises consists of a count of the number of enterprises involved in trade during at least a part of the reference period. For intra-EU trade, VAT data are used to estimate the number of traders and the trade value of the smallest traders which are exempted from Intrastat reporting. These traders account for a limited share of the trade value but in terms of number of enterprises represent the majority.
Number of employees
The number of employees refers to the number of those persons who work for an employer and who have a contract of employment and receive compensation in the form of wages, salaries, fees, gratuities, piecework pay or remuneration in kind. A worker is considered to be a wage or salary earner of a particular unit if he receives a wage or salary from the unit regardless of where the work is done (in or outside the production unit).
To determine the enterprise size classes th number of employees is used. The intention is to use the situation at the end of year (including seasonally active units). As the end date approach is not harmonised the annual average can also be used as reference calculated for a certain period.
The statistical unit is the enterprise. However the enterprise concept has not yet been implemented by all the reporting countries. When the enterprise concept has not yet been implemented, reporting countries use the legal unit as an approximation of the statistical unit.
Legal unit and enterprise are defined as follows:
- The legal unit is a part of the legal and administrative world. Only a legal unit may enter into contracts, be an owner of a property, rights or goods (i.e. production factors). However, a legal unit does not always reflect an economic activity. This is because a legal unit is a construct of law and administration.
- The enterprise is the smallest combination of legal units that is an organisational unit producing goods or services, which benefits from a certain degree of autonomy in decision-making, especially for the allocation of its current resources. An enterprise carries out one or more activities at one or more locations. It may also be a sole legal unit.
The Business Register Regulation establishes a link between the business registers and the registers of intra- and extra-EU trade operators through a common unit of reference, namely the legal unit. The same regulation also defines the link between the legal unit and the enterprise. Via the legal unit, trade in goods data can then be linked to enterprise characteristics available in the Business Register such as the economic activity or the number of employees.
International trade in goods statistics play a vital role in the assessment of every economy. Combined with additional information on characteristics of enterprises involved in international trade, such as the size and the sector of economic activity, trade data are significantly enhanced. Generally speaking, trade statistics show movements of goods between countries by goods categories. However, they do not provide explicit information on the businesses which are behind these trade flows. In a globalised world where economies are increasingly interconnected, it is more and more important to know traders and their characteristics. Answering this question requires linking trade statistics with other sources, and particularly with business statistics, which describe the structure and evaluation of the activities of businesses.
'International trade in goods by enterprise characteristics' is a new statistical domain, which unlike traditional trade statistics, aims at describing the structure of trade by characteristics of the trading enterprises, for instance by their economic activities, their size or concentration of trade. It is based on linking trade micro-data with business register information, allowing a deeper analysis of the impact of trade on employment, production and value added.
- International trade in goods (ext_go), see:
- International trade in goods - trade by enterprise characteristics (TEC) (ext_tec)
- Regulation (EC) No 222/2009 of 11 March 2009 amending Regulation (EC) No 638/2004 on Community statistics relating to the trading of goods between Member States
- Regulation (EC) No 471/2009 of 6 May 2009 on Community statistics relating to international trade with non-member countries and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1172/95
- Summaries of EU Legislation: Extrastat: statistics relating to trade with non-EU countries
- Regulation (EC) No 177/2008 of the European Parliament and the Council of 20 February 2008, establishing a common framework for Statistical Business Registers is the legal basis for business registers.
- Summaries for EU Legislation: Business registers for statistical purposes
- These Member States were Belgium, Czechia, Greece, France, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom