Main goods in extra-EU exports

Data extracted in March 2019

Planned article update: April 2020


Machinery and equipment, followed by motor vehicles, were the most exported products from the EU every year between 2014 and 2018.

In 2018, the top 5 EU export products were machinery and equipment (13.5 % of total exports), motor vehicles (11.0 %), pharmaceutical products (8.9 %), chemical products (8.3 %) and computer, electronic and optical products (7.6 %).

Germany was the biggest EU exporter of all top 5 export products in 2018 - machinery and equipment, motor vehicles, pharmaceutical products, chemical products and computer, electronic and optical products.

Top 5 CPA categories in extra-EU exports, 2014-2018

This article focuses on the most significant goods by value (according to the CPA classification) in extra-EU exports and presents statistics for the EU-28 from 2014 to 2018. Statistics on goods traded between the EU and the world — especially the size and evolution of exports — enable the EU and national authorities to evaluate the health and competitiveness of EU industries. The article discusses the contribution of individual Member States to total extra-EU exports for the five most exported product groups. Additionally, it shows the share these product groups have in each Member States’ total extra-EU exports of goods.

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

EU-28 exports by CPA groups

The CPA classification consists of 40 products. The 24 most exported products are shown in Table 1, while the other 16 are grouped as "Other". Among the 24 products, 20 recorded the highest exports in 2018. Five of the six exceptions were primary products: 'Basic metals', 'Coke and refined petroleum products', 'Food products', 'Products of agriculture, hunting and related services' and 'Other mining and quarrying products'. The sixth was 'Motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailer' whose exports were slightly lower than the previous year.

Table 1: Extra-EU exports of main CPA groups, EU-28, 2014-2018
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-057009)

The composition of total exports of goods in 2018 in the 24 CPA groups (Table 1) can be seen in Figure 1. The top two products 'Machinery and equipment n.e.c.' (machines) and 'Motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers' (cars) together account for almost a quarter of all exports. Together with the next three: 'Basic pharmaceutical products' (pharmaceuticals), 'Chemical Products' (chemicals) and 'Computers, electronic and optical products'(computers), they account for almost half of all exports. The rest of this article will concentrate on these top five products.

For readability, we use the designation of these products given in bold between brackets in the paragraph above. However, readers should keep in mind that these do not correspond exactly to the definition of these product groups.

Figure 1: Share of main CPA groups in total EU-28 exports, 2018
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-057009)

From 2014 to 2018, these five products were continuously in the top 5, as shown in Figure 2. Throughout the period the most exported product was machines whose exports grew from EUR 244 billion in 2014 to EUR 264 billion in 2018. Cars had a similar growth from EUR 194 billion in 2014 to EUR 215 billion in 2018. The exports of pharmaceuticals, chemicals and computers were fairly close together throughout the whole period. However, pharmaceuticals which was fifth in 2014 climbed to third in 2018 growing more strongly than any of the other top-5 products.

Figure 2: Top 5 CPA categories in extra-EU exports, 2014-2018
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-057009)

Other machinery and equipment

Germany accounted for more than a third of EU exports of machines in 2018, which is more than twice as much as the second largest exporter, Italy (Figure 3). These exports made up 17.9 % of all German exports; only Italy (21.4 %) and Luxembourg (19.7 %) had higher shares for this product group in their total exports of goods to countries outside the EU. For the whole EU this share was 13.5 %, with the lowest shares in Greece, Cyprus (both 2.6 %) and Ireland (1.6 %).

Figure 3: Extra-EU exports of 'other machinery and equipment', 2018
(EUR billion and %)
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-057009)

Motor vehicles

German dominance of exports in cars is even larger than in their exports of machines (see Figure 4). On its own, German extra-EU exports amounted to over half of the total EU exports in this product group in 2018. The importance of exports of motor vehicles for the German economy is further underlined in the share of these exports in all German exports (20.5 %); a share similar to that of Czechia (20.4 %), with only Slovakia (49.7 %) having a higher share. For Cyprus, Malta, Greece and Ireland these shares were all below 1 % of their total exports, while the EU share was 11.0 %.

Figure 4: Extra-EU exports of 'motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers', 2018
(EUR billion and %)
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-057009)

Pharmaceutical products

Within the whole EU, Germany had a share of almost one quarter of extra-EU exports of pharmaceuticals in 2018. It is followed at some distance by Ireland (18.6 %) and Belgium (12.1 %) (see Figure 5). Pharmaceuticals made up 7.5 % of all German extra-EU exports of good. This share was highest in Ireland (46.8 %) while double-digit shares were also found in Belgium (19.6 %) and Slovenia (16.0 %). Slovakia, Estonia and Luxembourg all had shares below 1 %. The average for the EU as a whole was 8.9 %.

Figure 5: Extra-EU exports of 'pharmaceutial products', 2018
(EUR billion and %)
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-057009)

Chemical products

The German share in extra-EU exports of chemicals (26.6 %) in 2018 was larger than that of the next two countries - France (12.3 %) and the Netherlands (11.1 %) - combined (see Figure 6). Exports of chemicals made up 7.9 % of all German extra-EU exports, which is slightly less than the share for the whole EU (8.3 %). Five countries had double-digit shares for extra-EU exports of 'chemical products' in their total extra-EU exports. These were Ireland (16.9 %), Belgium (14.7 %), Estonia (13.9 %), the Netherlands (11.5 %) and Lithuania (10.0 %). Only in Slovakia, Malta and Cyprus was the share below 3 %.

Figure 6: Extra-EU exports of 'chemical products', 2018
(EUR billion and %)
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-057009)

Computer, electronic and optical products

The German share for computers (33.6 %) was about one third of total extra-EU exports of this product group in 2018 (see Figure 7). The next three countries combined - the Netherlands (13.5 %), the United Kingdom (10.1 %) and France (8.8 %) - also accounted for almost one third, leaving the remaining third for the other 24 Member States. Computers made up 9.2 % of all German extra-EU exports, which is slightly higher than the 7.6 % for the whole EU. The share was highest in Malta (34.5 %), while another seven Member States (Czechia (17.4 %), Hungary (17.0 %), Estonia (15.6 %), the Netherlands (12.8 %), Slovakia (11.0 %) and Ireland (10.4 %)) had shares between 10 % and 18 % for this product group in their total extra-EU exports. The share was below 3 % in Greece, Belgium, Spain, Croatia and Cyprus.

Figure 7: Extra-EU exports of 'computer, electronics and optical products', 2018
(EUR billion and %)
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-057009)

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

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 28 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.


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.

Product classification

Classification of products by activity (CPA) is a statistical classification of products and services obligatory for all EU Member States. CPA classifies products by activity in which they are produced. Products are transportable goods and services. The CPA is a product classification whose elements are related to activities as defined by NACE Rev. 2. Each product - whether it be a transportable or a non-transportable good or a service - is assigned to one single NACE Rev. 2 activity. The linkage to activities as defined by NACE Rev. 2 gives the CPA a structure parallel to that of NACE Rev. 2 at all levels distinguished by NACE Rev. 2.

Unit of measure

Trade values are expressed in millions (106) 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 an important 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 28 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.

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International trade in goods - long-term indicators (t_ext_go_lti)
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International trade in goods - aggregated data (ext_go_agg)
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