International trade in goods by enterprise size
Data from November 2018.
Planned update: November 2019.
Share of SMEs in number of enterprises, %, 2012-2016
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 2016. 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 first statistics for total trade in goods are presented, combining intra-EU to extra-EU trade, in Figure 1, Table 1 and Table2. 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 as the median value for the Member States. For importing enterprises this value remained almost unchanged at 98.7 % between 2012 and 2016. The value for exporting enterprises was almost 1 percentage point lower in 2012, but increased slightly from 97.8 % in 2012 to 98.0 % in 2016.
Tables 1 and 2 show that, in 2016, 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 below 50 % in Lithuania (39.0 %), the United Kingdom (47.4 %) and Bulgaria (48.0 %) but reached as high as 96.1 % in Belgium. The share for the number of large enterprises varied moderately from 0.3 % for Belgium to 4.7 % for the United Kingdom. However, there was more variation in the share of import values. It started at 13.4 % for Italy up to 60.7 % for Spain, but was more typically between 30 % and 50 %.
Table 2 shows the shares for the number of exporting enterprises and the value of exports by enterprise size class. Compared to imports, the shares for the number of exporting enterprises show more variation between Member States. They ranged from 0.9 % to 6.7 % for large enterprises, from 3.8 % to 20.0 % for medium enterprises and 8.6 % to 32.5 % for small enterprises. In all Member States micro enterprises had the highest share in the number of enterprises ranging between 34.7 % for Belgium to 85.9 % for the United Kingdom. Besides the United Kingdom, only Lithuania (38.8 %), Italy (47.0), Portugal (47.2 %) had shares below 50 % for micro enterprises.
Intra-EU trade in goods by size class
Large enterprises made up only 1.2 % of the number of enterprises in intra-EU imports in 2016 (Figure 2). They had 42.2 % of the value of imports which was slightly less than the trade in value of the SME's (45.7 %). Micro enterprises, although making up 71.8 % of the number of enterprises in intra-EU imports, had a share in the value of imports of only 14.4 %. Medium enterprises accounted for 4.2 % of the number of intra-EU importers, but contributed more with 19.3 % to the value of imports. For small enterprises, the shares in value (13.7 %) and number of enterprises (15.0 %) were close. For 7.7 % of enterprises, accounting for 11.9 % of the value of imports, no size class was available. Dividing the import values by the number of importing enterprises shows considerable differences in the average value of imports per enterprise. For large enterprises this was eight times as high as for medium enterprises and 41 and 185 times as high as for small and micro enterprises respectively.
For intra-EU exports, the contribution of large enterprises to the total value was even higher than for imports (Figure 3). They accounted for 46 % of the trade value, although they represented only 2 % of the exporting enterprises. The other three groups each had lower shares in value for exports than for imports. However, the exporting enterprises share in the number of small, medium and large enterprises were larger in exports than in imports. Only micro enterprises had a 10 p.p. smaller share (71.8 % in imports and 62.1 % in exports). Dividing the export values by the number of exporting enterprises shows considerable differences in the average value of exports per enterprise. The average export value was considerably larger for large enterprises. The ratios to medium, small and micro enterprises were 9, 55 and 124 respectively. In all four size classes these values were higher in exports than in imports.
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 Belgium (99.7 %), Portugal (99.3 %) and Cyprus (99.3 %) and lowest in Czechia (91.1 %), Croatia (94.5 %) and France (95.2 %) (Figure 4). Czechia was the only country where the number of micro enterprises (33 %) 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 (82.7 %), Cyprus (79.9 %) and Estonia (78.4 %) and lowest in Czechia (44.6 %), Germany (37.9 %) and France (33.0 %) (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 Slovenia, the Netherlands and Estonia (all 99.0 %) and lowest in France (95.0 %), Croatia (93.1 %) and Czechia (90.0 %). The share of SMEs in the value of exports inside the EU (Figure 7) was highest in Cyprus (81.2 %), Latvia (78.4 %) and Belgium (71.8 %) and lowest in Germany (29.0 %), Slovakia (28.3 %) and France (22.6 %). 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 (66.2 % in exports, 27.6 % in imports). Only in four countries in 2016, was the share of large enterprises higher in imports than in exports. These were Belgium (28.2 % in exports, 31.3 % in imports), Cyprus (18.8 % in exports, 20.1 % in imports), the Netherlands (30.5 % in exports, 30.9 % in imports) and the United Kingdom (48.2 % in exports, 52.0 % 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 2016. The share for importers (Figure 8) was 2.8 % in extra-EU compared with 1.2 % for intra-EU. Likewise for exporters (Figure 9) it was 3.3 % for extra-EU compared to 1.9 % for intra-EU. The share in the value of extra-EU imports was 46.6 % (42.2 % for intra-EU) and in the value of extra-EU exports it was 56.9 % (46.3 % for intra-EU). However, the average value of imports and exports per enterprise was smaller for extra-EU trade than for intra-EU trade, not only for large enterprises but also for medium, small and micro enterprises, although in the latter two only in exports.
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 %), Belgium (98.3 %) and Greece (98.1 %) and lowest in Luxembourg and Czechia (both 94.3 %), Germany and Slovenia (both 94.7 %). The share of SMEs in the value of imports from outside the EU (Figure 11) was highest in Cyprus (83.4 %), Belgium (81.6 %) and Estonia (74.4 %) and lowest in Germany (33.7 %), France (25.0 %) and Slovakia (17.0 %).
The share of SMEs in the number of enterprises exporting to outside the EU (Figure 12) was highest in Italy (98.6 %), Greece (98.0 %), Spain and Portugal (both 97.5 %) and lowest in Slovakia (90.9), Romania (90.5 %) and Luxembourg (90.4 %). The share of SMEs in the value of exports to outside the EU (Figure 13) was highest in Cyprus (81.4 %), Latvia (79.1 %) and Estonia (70.8 %) and lowest in Germany (19.3 %), France (18.6 %) and Slovakia (15.4 %).
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
- 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.
- Missing Member States in: 2012: Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Spain and Italy; in 2013: Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Spain and Italy; in 2014: Slovenia and in 2016: Malta.