Statistics Explained

Africa-EU - international trade in goods statistics

Data extracted in February 2022.

Planned article update: February 2023.


In 2021, 68 % of goods exported from the EU to Africa were manufactured goods.

In 2021, 65 % of goods imported to the EU from Africa were primary goods (food and drink, raw materials and energy).

Northern Africa: largest trade in goods partner of the EU among the African regions in 2021.

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Imports, exports and trade balance between the EU and African countries, 2011-2021

This article provides a picture of international trade in goods between the European Union (EU) and Africa. It analyses the type of goods exchanged and the shares of each EU Member State in those exchanges. In this article the UN subdivision of Africa in five different regions is used (as shown in Map 1).

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

Map 1: African regions according to the United Nations geoscheme.

Africa’s main trade in goods partner is the EU

In 2020, the largest trade partner for Africa was the EU with 33 % of exports to, and 31 % of imports from non-African countries. In both cases China was the second largest partner with 17 % of exports and 22 % of imports. Trade among African countries accounted for 18 % of total (intra + extra) African exports and 15 % of total African imports.

Figure 1: African export and import shares with main partners, 2020
Source: UN Comtrade

In 2011, EU imports from Africa were smaller than exports to Africa resulting in a trade deficit of € 9 billion (see Figure 2). This grew to € 25 billion in 2012. Between 2012 and 2016 imports from Africa decreased significantly and the trade deficit became a trade surplus of € 33 billion. This surplus fell to € 8 billion in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, exports fell by € 20 billion while imports fell by € 36 billion. Thus the trade surplus grew to € 24 billion. However in 2021, exports increased by € 21 billion and imports increased by € 41 billion. This reduced the trade surplus to € 4 billion.

Figure 2: EU, trade in goods with African countries, 2011-2021
(€ billion)
Source: Eurostat - Comext DS-018995

Manufactured goods dominate exports to Africa

In 2011, 72 % of goods exported from the EU to Africa were manufactured goods (see Figure 3). This share fell to 68 % in 2021, while the share of primary goods rose from 27 % to 31 %. The declining share of manufactured goods was mostly caused by the declining share of machinery and vehicles, from 38 % in 2011 to 32 % in 2021 while during the same period the share for chemicals increased.

Figure 3: EU exports of goods to Africa by main product groups, 2021
(shares of total exports in value)
Source: Eurostat - Comext DS-018995

Primary goods dominate imports with Africa

For imports from Africa, primary goods are the largest group (see Figure 4). However, between 2011 and 2021 there share decreased from 76 % to 65 %, especially due to the decreasing share of energy, which is partly explained by falling oil and gas prices. In the same period, the share of manufactured goods rose from 23 % to 34 %. This was mainly due to increasing shares of machinery and vehicles from 7 % to 13 % and other manufactured goods from 13 % to 16 %.

Figure 4: EU imports of goods from Africa by main product groups, 2021
(shares of total imports in value)
Source: Eurostat - Comext DS-018995

Northern Africa largest trade in goods partner

EU exports of goods to Northern Africa rose from € 59 billion in 2011 to € 76 billion in 2021 (see Figure 5), equivalent to an average annual growth rate of 2.6 %. The growth rate was highest in Eastern Africa (2.7 %), followed by Western Africa (1.9 %) and Southern Africa (0.2 %). Exports of goods to Middle Africa (-3.3 %) declined in this period. Exports to all regions increased from 2020 to 2021.

Figure 5: EU exports of goods to African regions, 2011-2021
(€ billion)
Source: Eurostat - Comext DS-018995

Figure 6, depicting the evolution of imports from the five African regions, shows a decline of average annual imports from Middle Africa (-5.1 %) and Western Africa (-1.4 %) between 2011 and 2021. Eastern Africa and Northern Africa (both 1.5 %) had equal growth rates, while imports from Southern Africa (4.3 %) grew stronger. Similar to exports, EU imports from all five African regions increased from 2020 to 2021.

Figure 6: EU imports of goods from African regions, 2011-2021
(€ billion)
Source: Eurostat - Comext DS-018995

In 2021, the EU had trade in goods deficits Middle Africa (€ 1.9 billion) and Southern Africa (€ 1.6 billion) as shown in Figure 7. In contrast, there were trade in goods surpluses with Eastern Africa (€ 1.6 billion), Northern Africa (€ 2.4 billion) and Western Africa (€ 3.3 billion). The trade balance with Northern Africa has varied strongly in the past 10 years; there was a deficit of € 17.5 billion in 2012 and a surplus of € 25.2 billion in 2016 and € 19.3 billion in 2020.

Figure 7: EU trade in goods balance with African regions, 2011-2021
(€ billion)
Source: Eurostat - Comext DS-018995

Exports of goods to Africa important for Cyprus, Malta and Portugal

France (€ 24 billion), Germany (€ 23 billion), Spain and Italy (both € 18 billion), the Netherlands (€ 17 billion) and Belgium (€ 16 billion) were the largest exporters of goods to Africa in 2021 (Table 1). Portugal (19.9 %), Cyprus (19.5 %) and Malta (18.2 %) had the highest shares of exports to Africa in their total exports to countries outside the EU.

Table 1: Exports of goods to Africa, 2021
(€ million and %)
Source: Eurostat - Comext DS-018995

The largest exporters were also the largest importers of goods from Africa in 2021 (Table 2), although in a different order. Spain (€ 28 billion) led, followed by Italy and France (both € 24 billion), Germany, (€ 21 billion), the Netherlands (€ 17 billion) and Belgium (€ 10 billion). The highest shares of imports from Africa in total extra-EU imports were found in Spain (17.2 %), Portugal (13.2 %), Italy (12.2 %), France (11.7 %) and Greece (11.4 %).

Table 2: Imports of goods from Africa, 2021
(€ million and %)
Source: Eurostat - Comext DS-018995

In 2021, 21 EU Member States had a trade in goods surplus with Africa. It was highest in Belgium (€ 6 billion). Other Member States whose trade surplus was higher than € 1 billion were Sweden, Germany, Czechia, Romania, Poland and Ireland. The two Member States with the largest trade in goods deficits with Africa were Italy (€ 6 billion) and Spain (€ 9 billion).

Figure 8: Trade in goods balance with Africa, 2021
(€ million)
Source: Eurostat - Comext DS-018995

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.

Methodology According to the EU concepts 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 millions or billions (1 000 millions) 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.


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 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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Dedicated section

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)
EU trade since 1988 by SITC (DS-018995)