European Neighbourhood Policy - East - international trade in goods statistics

Data extracted in December 2018.

Planned article update: January 2020.


In 2017, Azerbaijan was the only European Neighbourhood Policy-East country to record a positive trade balance for goods.

In 2017, food, drinks and tobacco made up a higher share of imports into the European Neighbourhood Policy-East countries than into the EU.

The EU is one of the main trading partners for European Neighbourhood Policy-East countries ranging from 19 % of the imports to Belarus to 66 % of the exports from Moldova in 2017.

International trade in goods with the EU-28, 2017
(% share of total exports and imports)
Source: Eurostat and United Nations (Comtrade)

This article is part of an online publication and presents information relating to recent developments for international trade in goods for the European Union (EU) and in the six countries that together form the European Neighbourhood Policy-East (ENP-East) region, namely, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Note that data shown in this article for Georgia exclude the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia over which the government of Georgia does not exercise effective control and data for Moldova exclude Transnistria (unless otherwise stated). The latest data for Ukraine generally exclude the territories which are not under effective control of Ukrainian government and the illegally annexed Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (see specific footnotes for precise coverage).

The article highlights some of the key indicators for tracing developments in international trade, with information on exports, imports and the trade balance. It also presents an analysis of international trade by selected product groups (based on the standard international trade classification (SITC)) and by selected partners (including an analysis of the trade positions of ENP-East countries with the EU-28).

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Exports, imports and trade balance

In 2017, the EU-28 ran a surplus for goods traded with non-member countries, valued at EUR 21.0 billion. Among the ENP-East countries, Azerbaijan recorded a trade surplus for goods of EUR 5.0 billion. Each of the five remaining ENP-East countries recorded trade deficits for goods, with these being valued between EUR 1.6 billion (Armenia) and EUR 4.6 billion (Georgia).

When comparing developments for exports and imports of goods over the period 2007-2017, there was an expansion in the level of international trade in the EU-28 and all of the ENP-East countries (see Table 1) except in Ukraine (note a time series is only available for 2007-2016). It should be remembered that these values are presented in current price terms and so are affected by changes in price levels (inflation) and that the data for Ukraine are also impacted by a change in geographical coverage.

Table 1: International trade in goods, 2007, 2012 and 2017
(million EUR)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intratrd)

Marked increases (in percentage terms) were registered in the level of trade in goods for Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Moldova, where the value of exports more than doubled between 2007 and 2017, while imports increased by more than 50 %. Belarus reported somewhat more subdued increases, as exports were 46 % higher in 2017 than in 2007 while imports were 45 % higher. In Ukraine, exports were 9 % lower in 2016 than in 2007 and imports were 20 % lower.

Looking at the data for 2007, 2012 and 2017, it can be seen that some ENP-East countries, most notably Azerbaijan, saw a rapid increase in trade, particularly for exports, between 2007 and 2012 and a subsequent fall between 2012 and 2017, with these movements reflecting in large part price changes for fossil fuels combined with changes in the volume of trade.

The impact of these changes in the levels of exports and imports on the trade balance for goods between 2007 and 2017 was that deficits widened somewhat in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, and Moldova while the trade deficit in Ukraine narrowed (between 2007 and 2016) and the surplus in Azerbaijan increased.

While the absolute values of exports and imports reflect, to some degree, the size of each country (larger countries tend to export and import more goods than smaller countries in absolute terms), the relative importance of international trade within an economy can be seen from the relationship between exports/imports and gross domestic product (GDP) — see Table 2. Note that the export and import values used in this calculation are based on national accounts data, which may differ for methodological reasons from international trade statistics. Smaller economies often rely more (in relative terms) on exports and imports, in part reflecting their need to trade in a variety of goods that they do not produce on their national territory. Note that the indicator for the EU-28 is based upon extra-EU and intra-EU trade flows.

National accounts trade data for 2017 are available for three ENP-East countries: Armenia, Belarus and Georgia. The highest ratio of exports of goods relative to GDP among these countries was recorded in Belarus (52.7 %) as was the highest ratio for imports of goods relative to GDP (58.2 %). By contrast, the lowest ratios were in Armenia, 20.8 % for exports and 32.6 % for imports. For Georgia, the ratio for exports was 24.1 %, in other words only slightly higher than the ratio in Armenia, while for imports the ratio was 49.3 %, which was closer to the share observed for Belarus. For comparison, the same ratios for the EU-28 were 32.7 % for exports relative to GDP and 30.9 % for imports.

Table 2: International trade in goods, relative to GDP, 2007-2017
(% of GDP)
Source: Eurostat (nama_10_gdp)

The importance of exports and imports of goods in relation to GDP was lower in 2017 than in 2007 in Belarus. By contrast, the ratio of exports and imports of goods to GDP increased in Georgia and the EU-28 over the same period. The shorter time series for Armenia (2012-2017) shows an increase in the ratio of exports to GDP and a fall in the ratio of imports to GDP.

Trade in goods analysed by broad group of product

A country’s endowment with natural resources often impacts on specialisations within certain agricultural, mining, industrial or service sectors. By contrast, countries may lack specific resources and as a result they seek to import these goods (or services). As a result, there are considerable differences in the types of goods that individual countries export and import.

Table 3 shows an analysis of exports by broad group of goods for 2017. The most important export product group (for goods) for the EU-28 was that of machinery and vehicles, which accounted for 42.3 % of the EU-28’s exports, a considerably higher share than for other manufactured goods (22.6 %) or chemicals (17.7 %); none of the remaining product groups shown accounted for more than a tenth of the EU-28’s total exports of goods.

Table 3: Exports by broad group of goods, 2017
(% of total exports)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intratrd)

By contrast, Azerbaijan was highly specialised in exporting mineral fuels and related goods (89.5 % of its total exports of goods) in 2017, while this same product group accounted for nearly one quarter (23.6 %) of the goods exported from Belarus. More than one tenth of exported goods from Moldova were raw materials but the share for Georgia was close to one fifth. This share was closer to one quarter of the total exports of goods leaving Ukraine (2016 data) and nearly three tenths of the total leaving Armenia. Food, drinks and tobacco also accounted for a relatively large share of exports for most of the ENP-East countries, the only exception being Azerbaijan. This was particularly the case in Moldova and Armenia where these products accounted for close to one third of all exported goods.

A similar analysis, but for imports by broad product group, is shown in Table 4. It reveals that close to one third (32.0 %) of the EU-28’s imports of goods in 2017 were machinery and vehicles and a smaller share (25.7 %) were other manufactured goods, while mineral fuels and related goods accounted for between one fifth and one sixth (18.0 %) of the EU-28’s imports of goods from non-member countries.

Table 4: Imports by broad group of goods, 2017
(% of total imports)
Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intratrd)

Among the ENP-East countries, Belarus and Ukraine (2016 data) also recorded a relatively high share of their total imports of goods being made up of mineral fuels and related goods, with shares that were one fifth or higher and above the corresponding share for the EU-28.

In keeping with the analysis for the EU-28, the other main product categories imported by most of the ENP-East countries were machinery and vehicles and other manufactured products; the exception was Armenia, where the share of food, drinks and tobacco was greater than that of machinery and vehicles. In fact, food, drinks and tobacco accounted for a higher share of goods imported into each of the ENP-East countries than they did in the EU-28, as these products represented between 11.6 % and 17.2 % of total imports in 2017 except in Ukraine where the share (8.3 %; 2016 data) was below this range and in Armenia (25.3 %) where it was above this range. Due to its very low imports of mineral fuels and related goods, the structure of Azerbaijan’s imports was somewhat different from that of the other ENP-East countries. In particular, machinery and vehicles accounted for one third (33.4 %) of all goods imported in 2017.

Trade between the EU-28 and ENP-East countries

The EU-28 is a key partner for most of the ENP-East countries in terms of international trade relations for goods (see Figure 1). Indeed, the EU-28 was the origin of more than half of Ukraine’s imports of goods in 2016, close to half of Moldova’s imports in 2017, and for 19-28 % of the imports into the other ENP-East countries in 2017.

Figure 1: International trade in goods with the EU-28, 2017
(% share of total exports and imports)
Source: Eurostat and United Nations (Comtrade)

Looking at exports of goods leaving the ENP-East countries, close to two thirds of all exports in 2017 from Moldova (65.8 %) and Ukraine (65.8 %; 2016 data) were destined for the EU-28, while more than half of all exports from Azerbaijan (54.0 %) went to the EU-28. For the remaining ENP-East countries the share was nearer one quarter.

In value terms, Ukraine was the leading importer of goods — among the ENP-East countries — from the EU-28 and the leading exporter of goods to the EU-28 (see Table 5). In fact, Ukraine was the destination for around three fifths of the imports and exports between ENP-East countries and the EU-28 (2016 data) and had a trade surplus with the EU-28. Belarus and Azerbaijan were the second and third largest exporters of goods to the EU-28 among the ENP-East countries; in 2017, both of these countries also recorded trade surpluses for goods with the EU-28. By contrast, the three remaining ENP-East countries — Armenia, Georgia and Moldova — recorded deficits for trade in goods with the EU-28.

Table 5: Trade in goods with the EU-28, 2007, 2012 and 2017
(million EUR)
Source: Eurostat and United Nations (Comtrade)

A supplementary indicator for analysing international trade data is the cover ratio, calculated as the ratio of exports to imports (expressed as a percentage): a ratio below 100 % indicates more imports than exports and therefore a trade deficit. Azerbaijan had the highest cover ratio in relation to its goods trading performance with the EU-28 in 2017, as the value of its goods exported to the EU-28 was 3.65 times as high as the value of its goods imported from the EU-28 (a cover ratio of 365 %). However, the cover ratio for Azerbaijan for trade in goods with the EU-28 in 2017 was lower than it had been in 2012 (432 %); see Figure 2. The cover ratio for Belarus also fell strongly over the same period as its trade surplus with the EU-28 narrowed as the value of imports and exports were nearly equal in 2017. By contrast, the cover ratios shown for the remaining four ENP-East countries rose over the period under consideration as their trade deficits with the EU-28 narrowed and in the case of Ukraine turned into a surplus.

Figure 2: Cover ratio for trade in goods with the EU-28, 2012 and 2017
Source: Eurostat and United Nations (Comtrade)

Data sources

International trade statistics track the value and quantity of goods traded between countries. They are the official source of information on imports, exports and the trade balance. Traditionally, customs records are the main source of statistical data on international trade. Following the adoption of the Single Market on 1 January 1993, customs formalities between EU Member States were removed, and so a new data collection system, intrastat, was set up for intra-EU trade. In the intrastat system, intra-EU trade data are collected directly from trade operators, which send a monthly declaration to the relevant national statistical administration.

Most of the data for the EU-28 presented in this article come from Eurostat‘s Comext database; the data in Table 2 come from the national accounts databases within Eurobase.

The data for ENP-East countries are supplied by and under the responsibility of the national statistical authorities of each country on a voluntary basis. The data result from an annual data collection cycle that has been established by Eurostat. These statistics are available free-of-charge on Eurostat’s website, together with a range of additional indicators for ENP-East countries covering most socio-economic topics.

Tables in this article use the following notation:

Value in italics     data value is forecasted, provisional or estimated and is therefore likely to change;
: not available, confidential or unreliable value;
not applicable.


The EU has a common international trade policy, often referred to as the common commercial policy. In other words, the EU acts as a single entity on trade issues, including issues related to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). In these cases, the European Commission negotiates trade agreements and represents the interests of the EU Member States.

The EU seeks to promote the development of free trade as an instrument for stimulating economic growth and enhancing competitiveness. International trade statistics are of prime importance for both public sector (decision makers at international, EU and national level) and private users (in particular, businesses who wish to analyse export market opportunities) as they provide valuable information on developments regarding the exchange of goods between specific geographical areas. These statistics enable the EU to monitor the development of trade ties with its ENP partners, while they are also used by the European Commission to prepare multilateral and bilateral negotiations for common trade policies.

On 18 November 2015, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the European Commission jointly presented a review of the European Neighbourhood Policy (SWD(2015) 500 final) which underlined a new approach for the EU in relation to its eastern and southern neighbours, based on stabilising the region in political, economic, and security-related terms.

In cooperation with its ENP partners, Eurostat has the responsibility ‘to promote and implement the use of European and internationally recognised standards and methodology for the production of statistics, necessary for developing and monitoring policy achievements in all policy areas’. Eurostat undertakes the task of coordinating EU efforts to increase the statistical capacity of the ENP countries. Additional information on the policy context of the ENP is provided here.

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