Statistics Explained

International trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products

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Data from March 2022

Planned update March 2023

Highlights

The United States and Switzerland were the EU's main trading partners for medicinal and pharmaceutical products in 2021.
Among the EU Member States, Germany was the largest exporter (€56 billion) of medicinal and pharmaceutical products in 2021.
[[File:International trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products 06-04-2022 V2.xlsx]]

EU trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products, 2002-2021


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

An increasing trade surplus

Figure 1 shows that extra-EU exports and imports in medicinal and pharmaceutical products grew almost every year between 2002 and 2021, reaching €235 billion and €100 billion respectively in 2021. Even the financial crisis, which affected trade in many other products, did not cause a fall in exports or imports. With exports growing more than imports, the trade surplus grew from €18 billion in 2002 to a record high of €136 billion in 2021.

Figure 1: EU trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products, 2002-2021
(€ billion)
Source: Eurostat (online data code: DS-018995)


Increasing share in total trade

Between 2002 and 2008 the share of medicinal and pharmaceutical products in total extra-EU trade remained fairly stable (Figure 2). In 2009, the share of imports increased by 1.3 percentage points (pp) and exports by 1.6 pp. This was not caused by an increase in trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products but rather by the decline in total trade. Since 2009, the shares have been fluctuating but there is a clear overall growth until 2020. Between 2002 and 2021, the share for imports has grown from 3.4 % to 4.7 % while the share for exports has grown from 5.0 % to 10.8 %.

Figure 2: Share of medicinal and pharmaceutical products in total extra-EU trade, 2002-2021 (% in total trade)
Source: Eurostat (online data code: DS-018995)


United States and Switzerland remain the top EU partners

The United States stands out as the EU’s main trading partner for medicinal and pharmaceutical products in 2021 (Figure 3). Exports to the United States (32 %) are almost a third of all EU exports and are followed at some distance by Switzerland (12 %), the United Kingdom (7 %) and China (6 %). Imports to the EU are dominated even more by Switzerland (36 %) and the United States (30 %) followed by China and the United Kingdom (both 8 %). Because the United States and Switzerland are by far the two largest trade partners, the development of their trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products with the EU is shown in Figures 4 and 5.

Figure 3: Main EU partners for trade of medicinal and pharmaceutical products, 2021
(%)
Source: Eurostat (online data code: DS-018995)

Trade with the United States and Switzerland between 2002 and 2021

Figure 4 shows the development of trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products between the EU and the United States from 2002 to 2020. In this period, exports grew by €60 billion, falling only in 2008 and 2013. Since 2017, there was an exceptionally high increase of €34 billion, accounting for over half of the growth in the whole period. Between 2002 and 2021, imports grew by €19 billion. Measured as average annual growth over the period 2002 to 2021, exports grew by 8.7 % per year and imports grew by 5.4 % per year. During the whole period the EU has had a trade surplus with the United States, peaking at €48 billion in 2020, dropping to €46 billion in 2021.

Figure 4: EU trade with the United States in medicinal and pharmaceutical products, 2002-2021
(€ billion)
Source: Eurostat (online data code: DS-018995)

Figure 5 shows the development of trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products between the EU and Switzerland from 2002 to 2021. In this period, exports grew by €22 billion, which was €38 billion less than the export growth for the United States. Imports in this period grew by €27 billion, which was €8 billion more than the increase of imports from the United States. Measured as average annual growth, exports grew by 8.7 % per year, while imports grew by 7.8 % per year. During the whole period, the EU had a trade deficit with Switzerland, peaking at €8 billion in 2009, 2012, 2019 and 2021.

Figure 5: EU trade with Switzerland in medicinal and pharmaceutical products, 2002-2021
(€ billion)
Source: Eurostat (online data code: DS-018995)

Trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products by Member State

The share of intra EU imports in total (intra + extra) imports of medicinal and pharmaceutical products varied greatly between Member States in 2021 (Figure 6). For Lithuania, Estonia and Luxembourg, it was above 94 %, while for Slovenia and Malta it was below 40 %. The average for the EU was 68 %.

Figure 6: Share of medicinal and pharmaceutical products in intra and extra EU imports, 2021
(%)
Source: Eurostat (online data code: DS-018995)

The share of intra EU exports in total (intra + extra) exports of medicinal and pharmaceutical products also varied greatly between Member States in 2021 (Figure 7). For Luxembourg, Slovakia and Czechia it was above 85 %, while for Ireland, Finland, Denmark and Slovenia it was below 40 %. The average for the EU was 48 %.

Figure 7: Share of medicinal and pharmaceutical products in intra and extra EU exports, 2021 (%)
Source: Eurostat (online data code: DS-018995)

Table 1 shows that in 2021, amongst the EU Member States, Germany had the highest exports (€56 billion) followed by Belgium (€46 billion), Ireland (€38 billion), the Netherlands (€19 billion) and France (€17 billion). Four countries had shares higher than 20 % for medicinal and pharmaceutical products in their total extra-EU exports. These were Slovenia (39 %), Ireland (38 %), Belgium (30 %) and Denmark (26 %).

Belgium (€19 billion), Germany (€18 billion) and the Netherlands (€15 billion) were the largest importers of medicinal and pharmaceutical products in 2021[1]. In 2021, Slovenia (20 %), Austria (13 %) and Belgium (11 %) had the highest shares for medicinal and pharmaceutical products in their total extra-EU imports.TP

Germany (€38 billion), Ireland (€32 billion) and Belgium (€28 billion) had the largest trade surpluses for medicinal and pharmaceutical products in 2021 while Spain (- €2 billion) had the largest trade deficit.

Table 1: Extra EU trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products, 2021
(€ million and %)
Source: Eurostat (online data code: DS-018995)

Data sources

This article is based on data available in the Eurostat COMEXT database for EU Member States and in the United Nations COMTRADE database for non-EU countries.

A code (such as ‘DS_018995’) is inserted as part of the source. This code allows the reader to easily access the most recent EU data on the Eurostat website. Note that data on the website is frequently updated and may also be more detailed or have a different measurement unit. It should also be noted that European statistics on international trade in goods are compiled according to the EU concepts and definitions and may, therefore, differ from national data published by Member States.

Product classification

Division 54 'Medicinal and pharmaceutical products' of the Standard international trade classification revision 4 (SITC Rev. 4), is made up of the sub-groups:

  • 5411 ‘Provitamins and vitamins (not put up as medicaments)’;
  • 5413 ‘Antibiotics (not put up as medicaments)’;
  • 5414 ‘Vegetable alkaloids (not put up as medicaments)’;
  • 5415 ‘Hormones, prostaglandins, thromboxanes and leukotrienes’;
  • 5416 ‘Glycosides; glands or other organs; antisera, vaccines;
  • 5419 ‘Pharmaceutical goods, other than medicaments’;
  • 5421 ‘Medicaments containing antibiotics’;
  • 5422 ‘Medicaments containing hormones, etc., but not antibiotics’;
  • 5423 ‘Medicaments containing alkaloids, but not containing hormones etc. or antibiotics’;
  • 5429 ‘Medicaments not elsewhere specified’.

Unit of measure

Trade values are expressed in millions (106) 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.

A bias in the geographical allocation of extra-EU flows

Extra-EU imports and exports are reported by the Member State where the customs declaration is lodged, usually the place where the goods cross the EU external frontier (here referred to as the exit/entry Member State). This is not necessarily the Member State of actual import or export. The geographical allocation of an extra-EU flow is biased in the case where the entry/exit Member State is not the actual importing/exporting Member State. In such a case, the extra-EU trade will be allocated to the entry/exit Member State and the actual importing/exporting Member State will report only intra-EU flows with the exit/entry Member State. This issue particularly impacts the extra-EU imports of Member States having important ports for transhipment of goods like Antwerp in Belgium and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. This is why it is known as the ‘Rotterdam effect’.

The United Kingdom is considered as an extra-EU partner country for the EU 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 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 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 trade partners.

Context

Pharmaceutical products are among the most important products within the chemicals sector (SITC section 5). Today, the pharmaceutical sector is extensively regulated at EU level in the dual interest of ensuring the highest possible level of public health and patient confidence in safe, effective and high-quality medicinal products, while continuing to develop a single EU market for pharmaceuticals in order to strengthen the European pharmaceutical industry's competitiveness and research capability.

The most common trade impediments faced by pharmaceutical exporters are a range of burdensome and costly registration, licensing and certification procedures. The EU aims to redress these through its bilateral trade agreements or by tackling individual barriers as part of its market access partnership.

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Notes

  1. Dutch and Belgian imports can be overestimated due to the so-called "Rotterdam effect" (See section Data sources for more details)