International trade in raw materials
Data extracted in March 2018.
Planned update: March 2019.
The EU has an ongoing trade deficit in raw materials including goods such as oilseeds, cork, wood, pulp, textile fibres, ores and other minerals as well as animal and vegetable oils since 2002.
The United States and Brazil are the largest partners for EU imports of raw materials in 2017.
EU-28 exports, imports and trade balance in raw materials, 2002-2017
Trade in raw materials is extremely important for the sustainability of European countries and their economies. Construction, chemicals, the automotive and aerospace industries, machinery and equipment are some of the sectors that are most dependent on access to raw materials.
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.
General view on EU trade deficit
The EU has an ongoing trade deficit in raw materials (SITC sections 2 and 4, including non-manufactured goods such as oilseeds, cork, wood, pulp, textile fibres, ores and other minerals as well as animal and vegetable oils) since 2002. Both imports and exports dropped in 2009 and quickly recovered. Imports peaked in 2011 at EUR 85 billion and exports peak a year later at EUR 48 billion. After these peaks there was a steady decline until 2017 when imports were EUR 68 billion and exports EUR 43 billion. However in 2017 both imports and exports increased to EUR 78 billion and EUR 50 billion respectively.
Figure 2 gives an overview of the value, weight and average price of imports and exports of raw materials from 2002 to 2017. It shows that not only in value but also in weight, the EU imports were higher than exports. However some differences can be noted. In value and weight EU-28 exports from 2002 to 2009 followed the same trend. Between 2010 and 2012 values grew slightly more than weight as the average export prices reached a high point. After 2012 prices started to fall again. In 2017 prices were 44 % higher than they were in 2002.
For EU imports the decline in 2009 was stronger than for exports. Moreover the decline in value was stronger than in weight as prices were also falling. Just as in exports, imports prices also started to recover and reached a high point in 2012. Between 2012 and 2017 they fell but were still 84 % higher in 2017 than in 2002. During the whole period the average price for exports was well above the average price for imports.
Raw materials by product group
The most traded product group in value is 'Metals, minerals and rubber' (48 % in exports and 41 % in imports) , followed by 'Animal and vegetable raw materials' (33 % in exports and 29 % in imports). 'Wood, cork, paper and textiles' is the least traded product group with 18 % of exports and 30 % of imports of raw materials.
Figure 4 gives a more detailed product breakdown of EU exports and imports. Metalliferous ores and metal scrap are the most traded raw material accounting for 30 % of all exports and 37 % of all imports of raw materials. It also has the largest trade deficit. Other large deficits are seen in 'oilseeds and oleaginous fruits' (SITC 22) and 'animal and vegetable oils, fats and waxes' (SITC 41 to 43). There are trade deficits for all but four of the products shown, the exceptions being 'hides, skins and furskins, raw' (SITC 21), 'other crude animal and vegetable materials' (SITC 29), 'cork and wood' (SITC 24) and 'textiles, fibres and their wastes' (SITC 26).
Figures 5, 6 and 7 show the exports, imports and trade balance over time for the three product groups identified in figure 3. Figure 5 shows that the trade deficit of 'animal and vegetable raw materials' was highest in 2008 and 2017. Between these two years both exports and imports increased by 6 billion euro. Growth was especially high in the years immediately following the 2009 financial crisis and flattened somewhat in the latter years.
With the exception of 2007 the trade deficit of 'wood, cork, paper and textiles' dropped every year between 2002 and 2009. Between 2007 and 2009 imports fell by 6 billion euro while exports only dropped by 1 billion euro. Thereafter imports and exports were always close and in 2017 the EU first had a trade surplus for this product group.
In 2009 imports of 'metals, minerals and rubber' fell by 20 billion euro while export only fell by 3 billion euro. However in contrast to 'wood, cork, paper and textiles', import recovered strongly in the following years and therefore their trade deficit returned to pre-crisis levels by 2011 when it reached 28 billion euro. From then onward it slowly diminished until reaching 15 billion in 2016 with a small increase to 17 billion in 2017.
EU-28 trade partners for raw materials
Figures 8 to 11 show the main partners of the EU for trade in raw materials in total and separately for the three product groups. Each figure shows the shares of the six main partners and is accompanied at the bottom by two bars showing the exports and imports in absolute values.
Figure 8 shows that for EU raw materials China is the main export destination with almost a quarter of all exports. It is followed at some distance by Turkey and the United States each with a share of 10 %. The top six export partners account for more than half of all exports. The United States and Brazil are the largest partners for imports, together they account for almost a quarter of all imports while the top six combined, has 48 % of all imports.
In animal and vegetable raw materials the top 3 exporter partners (the United States, China and Russia) as well as the top 3 partners for imports (Indonesia, the United States and Ukraine) account for just over a third of trade. However since the next three partners for exports have somewhat smaller shares than in imports, the total of the top six export partners for exports makes up 48 % while the top six import partners account for 54 %.
In exports of 'wood, cork, paper and textiles', China's share of 31 % is more than that of next 5 partners combined. On the imports side Brazil (18 %) and the United States (16 %) are the main partners.
Over a quarter of all exports of 'metals, minerals and rubber' is destined for China which is just below the combined share of number two, Turkey (18 %) and number three, the United States (10 %). This is the only product group where the top three accounts for more than half of the exports and the top six for more than two thirds. Imports, led by Brazil (13 %), the United States (10 %) and Canada (9 %) is less concentrated with the top 6 accounting for just below half of all imports.
Source data for tables and graphs
COMEXT is the Eurostat 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 non-EU countries. International trade aggregated and detailed statistics disseminated from Eurostat's website are compiled from COMEXT data according to a monthly process. Because COMEXT is updated on a daily basis, data published on the website may differ from data stored in COMEXT in case of recent revisions.
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.
Raw materials are defined according to the fourth revision of the Standard international trade classification. They include sections 2 Crude materials, inedible, except fuels and 4 Animal and vegetable oils, fats and waxes.
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.
In terms of percentage, the EU is highly dependent on imports of raw materials. For this reason, raw materials security and related strategies have become one of the key priorities in the EU’s external actions and form an integral component of the EU’s interior policy making. The foundations of these strategies were laid in three key documents:
- COM(2008) 699 final ‘The Raw Materials Initiative’;
- COM(2011) 25 final tackling the challenges in commodity markets and on raw materials); and
- COM(2014) 297 final on the review of the list of critical raw materials for the EU and the implementation of the raw materials initiative, based in the global economic situation and the EU’s high dependence on imports of certain raw materials.
- 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)
Methodology / Metadata
- International trade in goods statistics - background
- International trade in goods (ESMS metadata file — ext_go_agg_esms)
- User guide on European statistics on international trade in goods
- Regulation (EC) No 471/2009 of 6 May 2009 on Community statistics relating to external trade with non-member countries
- Regulation (EU) No 92/2010 of 2 February 2010 implementing Regulation (EC) No 471/2009, as regards data exchange between customs authorities and national statistical authorities, compilation of statistics and quality assessment
- Regulation (EU) No 113/2010 of 9 February 2010 implementing Regulation (EC) No 471/2009 , as regards trade coverage, definition of the data, compilation of statistics on trade by business characteristics and by invoicing currency, and specific goods or movements.
- Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council — The raw materials initiative — Meeting our critical needs for growth and jobs in Europe (SEC(2008) 2741).