China-EU - international trade in goods statistics
Data extracted in March 2021
Planned article update: March 2022
EU trade in goods with China, 2010-2020
This article provides a picture of the international trade in goods between the European Union (EU) and China. It analyses the type of goods exchanged between the two economies and the shares of each EU Member State in those exchanges.
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.
Recent developments, impact of COVID-19
The COVID-19 crisis caused both exports and imports between the EU and China to fall in 2020. Exports reached a minimum of EUR 15.0 billion in March 2020. By December 2020 they had recovered to EUR 19.2 billion. This was 13% above their level in December 2019. Imports reached a minimum of EUR 26.8 billion in March 2020. By December 2020 they had recovered to EUR 33.9 billion. This was 20 % above their level in December 2019.
Figure 2 compares trade with China to trade with other non EU countries. Between January 2019 and December 2020, exports to China increased by 10.0 % while exports to other non EU countries decreased by 3.9 %. Imports from China increased by 14.2 % while imports from other non EU countries decreased by 15.2 %. The graph clearly shows that the COVID-19 crisis influence on trade with China happened two months before trade with other non EU countries and had a much smaller effect on their levels. In May 2020 when imports from other non EU countries reached a bottom (67 % of their January 2019 level), imports from China reached a record height of 126 % of their January 2019 level. Although they dropped in the following months they consistently outperformed the other non EU countries.
EU and China in world trade in goods
Figure 3 shows the world's largest traders fo goods. China (EUR 2 233 billion, 16.1 %) was the largest exporter in the world, followed by the EU (EUR 2 132 billion, 15.4 %), the United States (EUR 1 468 billion, 10.6 %), Japan (EUR 630 billion, 4.6 %) and South Korea (EUR 484 billion, 3.5 %). China (EUR 1 857 billion, 13.1 %) was the third largest importer in the world, preceded by the United States (EUR 2 293 billion, 16.1 %) and the EU (EUR 1 940 billion, 13 .7%) and followed by Japan (EUR 644 billion, 4.5 %) and the United Kingdom (EUR 622 billion, 4.4 %).
The imports and exports of goods of the EU and China indexed at 100 in 2009 for the period to 2019 are shown in Figure 4. It also shows the cover ratio (exports / imports) for this period. Exports from the EU were lowest in 2009 (100) and highest in 2019 (180). Imports to the EU were lowest in 2009 (100) and highest in 2019 (163). The cover ratio for the EU was lowest in 2011 (97 %) and highest in 2016 (116 %) and was 110 % in 2019. Exports from China were lowest in 2009 (100) and highest in 2019 (208). Imports to China were lowest in 2009 (100) and highest in 2018 (212) and were 207 in 2019. The cover ratio for China was lowest in 2011 (109 %) and highest in 2015 (135 %) and was 120 % in 2019.
Both exports to and imports from China increased between 2010 and 2020.
The position of China among the largest trade partners of the EU in 2020 can be seen in Figure 5. In 2020, China was the third largest partner for EU exports of goods (10.5 %). It was preceded by the United States (18.3 %) and the United Kingdom (14.4 %) and followed by Switzerland (7.4 %) and Russia (4.1 %). It was the largest partner for EU imports of goods (22.4 %),It was followed by the United States (11.8 %), the United Kingdom (9.8 %), Switzerland (6.3 %) and Russia (5.6 %).
Figure 6 shows the exports, imports and trade balance between the EU and China from 2010 to 2020. In 2010, the EU had a trade deficit with China of EUR 140 billion. The trade deficit remained throughout the whole period, reaching EUR 181 billion in 2020. Both exports to and imports from China increased between 2010 and 2020. EU exports to China were highest in 2020 (EUR 203 billion) and lowest in 2010 (EUR 105 billion). EU imports from China were highest in 2020 (EUR 383 billion) and lowest in 2013 (EUR 239 billion).
EU-China trade by type of goods
The breakdown of EU trade with China by SITC groups is shown in Figure 7. The red shades denote the primary products: food & drink, raw materials and energy, while the blue shades show the manufactured goods: chemicals, machinery & vehicles and other manufactured goods. Finally, other goods are shown in green. In 2020, EU exports of manufactured goods (86 %) had a higher share than primary goods (13 %). The most exported manufactured goods were machinery & vehicles (52 %), followed by other manufactured products (19 %) and chemicals (15 %). In 2020, EU imports of manufactured goods (98 %) also had a higher share than primary goods (2 %). The most imported manufactured goods were machinery & vehicles (54 %), followed by other manufactured products (38 %) and chemicals (6 %).
Figure 8 shows the evolution of EU imports and exports by SITC group since 2010. In 2020, the EU had trade surpluses in food & drink (EUR 12 billion), chemicals (EUR 9 billion), raw materials (EUR 6 billion), other products (EUR 1 billion) and energy (EUR 1 billion). The EU had trade deficits in machinery & vehicles (EUR 102 billion) and other manufactured products (EUR 108 billion).
EU-China most traded goods
More detail about the goods exchanged between the EU and China is given in Figure 9, showing the 20 most traded goods at SITC-3 level. These top 20 goods covered 57 % of total trade in goods in 2020. Ten belonged to machinery and vehicles, seven to other manufactured products, two to chemicals and one to food and drink. The most traded product group at this level was telecommunications equipment. Another interesting way to look at the data is to investigate the cover ratio (exports / imports) of traded goods, showing the direction of the trade flows between the two economies. These ratios can be found in the right-hand margin of Figure 9. Eleven products were below 50 %, indicating EU imports from China were at least twice as large as EU exports to China. Five products were above 200 %, indicating EU exports to China were at least twice as large as EU imports from China. Four products were between 50 % and 200 %, showing more balanced trade.
Trade with China by Member State
Table 1a shows the imports of goods from China by Member State. The three largest importers from China in the EU were the Netherlands (EUR 91 071 million), Germany (EUR 82 039 million) and France (EUR 35 993 million). Czechia (41.5 %) had the highest share for China in its extra-EU imports.
Table 1b shows the exports of goods to China by Member State. The three largest exporters to China in the EU were Germany (EUR 96 426 million), France (EUR 17 493 million) and the Netherlands (EUR 15 692 million). Germany (16.8 %) had the highest share for China in its extra-EU exports.
The trade in goods balance between the EU Member States and China is shown in Table 1c. It shows that three Member States had a trade surplus with China. The largest surplus was held by Germany (EUR 14 388 million), followed by Ireland (EUR 6 025 million) and Finland (EUR 571 million). There were 24 Member States that had a trade deficit with China. The largest deficit was held by the Netherlands (EUR 75 379 million), followed by Poland (EUR 20 268 million) and Italy (EUR 19 257 million).
Source data for tables and graphs
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.
Data for the non EU-27 countries used in figures 1-3 are taken from the UNCTAD database of the United Nations. For the calculation of shares, the world trade is defined as the sum of EU trade with non-EU countries (source: Eurostat) plus the international trade of non-EU countries (source: UNCTAD).
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.
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 (109) of euros. They correspond to the statistical value, i.e. to the amount which would be invoiced in the event 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 bloc 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.
- International trade in goods (t_ext_go), see:
- 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 (ext_go), see:
- 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)
- International trade in goods statistics - background
- International trade in goods (ESMS metadata file — ext_go_esms)
- User guide on European statistics on international trade in goods