Main goods in extra-EU imports


Data extracted in March 2020.

Planned article update: April 2021.

Highlights

Computer, electronic & optical products and crude petroleum & natural gas were the most imported products by the EU every year between 2015 and 2019.

In 2019, the top 5 EU import products were computer, electronic and optical products, crude petroleum and natural gas (both 13 % of total imports), chemicals & chemical products (7 %), machinery & equipment and motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers (both 6 %).

Top 5 CPA categories in extra-EU imports, 2015-2019

This article focuses on the most significant goods by value (according to the CPA classification) in extra-EU imports. It presents statistics for the EU-27 from 2015 to 2019. Imported goods can be final goods but can also be important inputs for European industries. The article discusses the share of individual Member States in total extra-EU imports for the five most imported product groups. Additionally, it shows the share these product groups have in each Member State's total extra-EU imports of goods.

The 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-27 imports by CPA groups

The CPA classification consists of 40 products. The 24 most imported products (with a value of more than EUR 10 billion in 2019) are shown in Table 1, while the other 16 are grouped as "Other". For 19 of the products, the imports reached a high point in 2019. The second most imported product, 'Crude petroleum and natural gas' was one of the exceptions and was overtaken by 'Computer, electronic and optical products'.

Table 1: imports of main CPA groups, EU-27, 2015-2019
(EUR billion)
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-057009)

The composition of total EU imports of goods in 2019 for the 24 CPA groups in table 1 is shown in Figure 1. The top two products, 'Computer, electronic and optical products' (computers) with 13.4 % and 'Crude petroleum and natural gas' (oil & gas) with 12.9 %, together account for over a quarter of all imports. Following at a distance, the next three products are 'Chemicals and chemical products' (chemicals) with 6.8 %, 'Machinery and equipment n.e.c' (machines) with 6.5 % and 'Motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers' (cars) with 5.9 %. It is on these five product groups that the rest of the article will concentrate.


For readability, the designation of these products given in bold between brackets in the paragraph above is used. 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 extra-EU imports, 2019.png
(%)
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-057009)

These 5 top product groups from 2019 were continuously in the top 5 from 2015 to 2019. Throughout the whole period, the same product groups occupied the top two places, namely computers and oil & gas, with the former overtaking the latter as the most imported product in 2019, in part due to falling prices for crude petroleum. The other three products remained close to each other during the whole period.

Figure 2: Top 5 CPA categories in extra-EU imports, 2015-2019
(EUR_billion)
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-057009)

Computer, electronic and optical products

In 2019, the Netherlands was the largest importer of computers in the EU-27. Its imports of EUR 87 billion were 33.6 % of total EU-27 imports from countries outside the EU. The high value of the Netherlands is partly due to quasi-transit trade. There were five Member States where the share of computers in their total imports from countries outside the EU was above 20 %. These were Luxembourg (42.3 %), Czechia (39.7 %), the Netherlands (25.8 %), Hungary (25.0 %) and Slovakia (20.0 %).

Table 2: Extra-EU imports of computers, electronics and optical products, 2019
(EUR billion and %)
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-057009)


Crude petroleum and natural gas

In 2019, the Netherlands was the largest importer of petroleum in the EU-27. Its imports of EUR 43 billion were 17.3 % of total EU-27 imports from countries outside the EU. There were seven Member States where the share of petroleum in their total imports from countries outside the EU was above 20 %. These were Lithuania (42.0 %), Greece (39.3 %), Portugal (28.9 %), Finland (25.2 %), Bulgaria (25.2 %), Spain (22.1 %) and Italy (21.0 %).

Table 3: Extra-EU imports of crude petroleum and natural gas, 2019
(EUR billion and %)
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-057009)


Chemicals and chemical products

In 2019, Germany was the largest importer of chemicals in the EU-27. Its imports of EUR 25 billion were 18.6 % of total EU-27 imports from countries outside the EU. There were three Member States where the share of chemicals in their total imports from countries outside the EU was above 10 %. These were Estonia (17.1 %), Belgium (14.5 %) and Ireland (10.3 %).

Table 5: Extra-EU imports of chemicals and chemical products, 2019
(EUR billion and %)
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-057009)

Other machinery and equipment

In 2019, Germany was the largest importer of machines in the EU-27. Its imports of EUR 35 billion were 27.7 % of total EU-27 imports from countries outside the EU. There was one Member State where the share of machines in their total imports from countries outside the EU was above 10 %. This was Luxembourg (13.8 %).

Table 4: Extra-EU imports of other machinery and equipment, 2019
(EUR billion and %)
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-057009)


Motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers

In 2019, Germany was the largest importer of cars in the EU-27. Its imports of EUR 30 billion were 26.0 % of total EU-27 imports from countries outside the EU. There were four Member States where the share of cars in their total imports from countries outside the EU was above 10 %. These were Slovenia (19.3 %), Slovakia (16.8 %), Belgium (12.5 %) and Cyprus (11.8 %).


Table 6: Extra-EU imports of motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers, 2019
(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 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.

Methodology

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 imports and the country of origin for imports.

Dutch trade flows are over-estimated because of the so-called ‘Rotterdam effect’ (or quasi-transit trade): that is goods bound for other EU countries arrive in Dutch ports and, according to EU rules, are recorded as extra-EU imports by the Netherlands (the country where goods are released for free circulation). This in turn increases the intra-EU flows from the Netherlands to those Member States to which the goods are re-exported. To a lesser extent, Belgian figures are similarly overestimated.

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 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 imports and a CIF value (cost, insurance, freight) for imports.

Context

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 imports 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 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.

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International trade in goods - long-term indicators (t_ext_go_lti)
International trade of machinery and transport equipment (SITC 7), by declaring country (tet00009)
Extra-EU27 trade of machinery and transport equipment (SITC 7), by Member State (tet00059)
Extra-EU27 trade of machinery and transport equipment (SITC 7), by main partners (tet00030)
International trade in goods - short-term indicators (t_ext_go_sti)
Imports of goods - machinery and transport equipment (teiet170)
imports of goods - machinery and transport equipment (teiet070)
International trade in goods - aggregated data (ext_go_agg)
International trade in goods - detailed data (detail)