Impact of COVID-19 on international trade by product group
Data extracted in March 2021.
Planned article update: March 2022.
Extra-EU trade in energy products fell by 38 % in 2020 compared to 2019.
Trade in chemicals and food & drink was largely unaffected by the COVID-19 crisis.
Exports in all products increased in the fourth quarter of 2020 compared to the third quarter of 2020.
To help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries around the world have taken a variety of restrictive measures which have negatively affected international trade in goods. This article is part of an online publication containing articles on the Impact of COVID-19 on international trade in goods statistics. In this article, the impact on different product groups is presented. To ensure comparability over time, seasonally and working-day adjusted data are used.
Comparison with the previous year
The development of trade is somewhat different for the six product groups shown in Figure 1. Chemicals and food & drink are largely unaffected by the COVID-19 crisis, while there was a moderate drop for imports and exports of raw materials. By contrast, machinery & vehicles, other manufactured products and, in particular energy, all had large drops.
The product group showing the largest relative decline in 2020 compared to the previous year is energy (see Figure 2). However, the drop is due to a combination of the COVID-19 crisis and a fall in prices for major energy products, such as crude oil. Exports of chemicals and food & drink grew moderately during this period. They were also the two categories where exports grew more than imports. Exports and imports had almost equal declines in raw materials as well as in energy. In machinery & vehicles and in other manufactured products exports dropped more than imports.
Table 1 shows the growth rates for imports per quarter in 2020 compared with the same quarters in 2019. For most product groups the largest drop was in the second quarter. The largest drop (-58 %) was for energy, while machinery & vehicles (-19 %) and other manufactured product (- 13 %) also had double-digit drops. Food & drink had its largest decline in the third quarter. This was also the case for chemicals for which the other three quarters all had growth.
Declines in the growth rates for exports of goods were lowest in the second quarter of 2020 for all groups except chemicals and food & drink (see Table 2). The largest drops (- 57 %) was for energy, while machinery & vehicles (- 32 %), other manufactured product (- 27 %) and raw materials (- 16 %) also had double digit drops.
Overall, 2020 compared to 2019 showed a clear decline in the import values for energy, machinery & vehicles and other manufactured goods, while the other sectors, despite the COVID-19 crisis, stood at the same values observed in 2019 (see Figure 3). Exports show largely the same developments as imports but as the EU exports far less energy than it imports, the drop is not as visible as in imports (see Figure 4).
Quarter to quarter comparison
In the quarter to previous quarter comparison, imports of chemicals had the largest drop in the third quarter of 2020 (see Table 3). For all other groups, the second quarter was when the largest drop happened, while their third quarter saw some improvement. In the fourth quarter of 2020, all product groups except food & drink grew compared to the third quarter.
For exports it was also the second quarter of 2020 which saw the largest decreases compared to the first quarter. In the third (with the exception of chemicals) and fourth quarters of 2020 exports for all product groups grew compared to their previous quarter.
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 EU-27 data reflect the political change in the EU composition. Therefore, the United Kingdom is considered as an extra-EU partner country for the EU-27. However, the United Kingdom is still part of the internal market until the end of the transitory period, meaning that data on trade with the United Kingdom are still based on statistical concepts applicable to trade between the EU Member States. As a consequence, while imports from any other extra-EU-27 trade partner are grouped by country of origin, the United Kingdom data reflect 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.
In this article some products are classified as COVID-19 related products. They are compared over time and across countries, and also with products in the same chapter of the Harmonised System (HS) product classification, i.e. they are compared with other similar products that are however not directly used in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It should be noted that most COVID-19 related products cannot be precisely identified and they are grouped together with products not specific to COVID-19. Nevertheless, some trends can be observed.
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.
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 a major element of the external dimension of the ‘Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’ and 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