Production and international trade in chemicals
Data from September 2021.
Planned update: April 2022.
EU trade in chemicals, 2010-2020
This article presents statistics on the European Union’s (EU) sold production and trade in chemical products. It focuses on the EU imports and exports of chemicals with the rest of the world, as well as on how they are related to the total EU sold production of chemicals.
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.
Sold production of chemicals
The total sold production of chemicals in terms of value increased by EUR 153 billion between 2010 and 2020 (see Figure 1). Between 2010 and 2012, production of chemicals grew strongly. In 2013 it fell slightly and afterwards did not grow as strong as in 2010 and 2011. The average annual growth over the period 2010-2020 was 2.7 %, leading to a peak of EUR 657 billion in 2019 dropping slightly to 649 billion in 2020.
Growing trade in chemicals
Imports of chemicals into the EU increased from EUR 154 billion in 2010 to EUR 233 billion in 2020 (see Figure 2). Imports grew every year except in 2013 and 2020. The average annual growth of imports over the whole period was 4.2 %.
The value of EU exports of chemicals was significantly higher than the value of its imports, but followed more or less the pattern of imports. Thus exports grew from EUR 242 billion in 2010 to EUR 411 billion in 2020. The average annual growth of exports over the whole period was 5.4 % which was 1.2 percentage points higher than for imports.
The EU had a growing trade surplus in chemicals throughout the 2010–2020 period. The surplus grew from EUR 88 billion in 2010 to EUR 178 billion in 2020, equivalent to an average annual growth of 7.3 %.
EU is the largest exporter of chemical products
Looking at the major international players in chemicals trade, the EU headed the list in 2019 with a total trade of EUR 642 billion, which consisted of EUR 407 billion of exports and EUR 235 billion of imports, thus recording the highest trade surplus ( EUR 172 billion) as shown in Figure 3. The United States was the largest importer (EUR 243 billion) and second largest exporter ( EUR 201 billion). China was both the third largest importer and exporter with values of EUR 196 billion and EUR 145 billion respectively.
The United States, Switzerland and the United Kingdom were the EU's three largest partners for both exports and imports of chemicals in 2020 (see Figure 4). The EU had a trade surplus with eight of the ten largest partners measured in total trade (exports plus imports), most notably with the United States (EUR 61 billion), Russia (EUR 13 billion) and the United Kingdom (EUR 11 billion). There were trade deficits with Switzerland (EUR 13 billion) and South Korea (EUR 2 billion).
Sold production and trade of chemicals by product
In 2020, the largest product group in trade of chemicals is 'Medical and pharmaceutical products' (see Figure 5). In exports its share is 52 % and in imports it is 40 %. Two other groups had shares above 10 %. 'Organic chemicals' had 12 % of exports and 23 % of imports and 'Chemical materials and products' had 10 % of exports and 11 % of imports.
Figure 6 shows that sold production grew between 2010 and 2020 in all groups. In absolute term the largest increase was for medical products, rising from EUR 117 billion in 2010 to EUR 186 billion in 2020. The average annual growth was highest for chemical materials and products (4.9 %), closely followed by medical & pharmaceutical products (4.8 %).
Table 1 shows the level of the sold production for the top 20 chemical products in the EU. 'Other medicaments of mixed or unmixed products' topped the list of the most sold chemical products in the EU in value terms in 2020 with EUR 63 billion. The second and third most sold products were 'Antisera and related products' (EUR 28 billion) and 'Vaccines for human medicine' (EUR 24 billion). No other products had a sold production above EUR 20 billion.
Table 2 summarises the EU sold production and trade of chemical products in 2020. It should be pointed out that this data comes from two distinct surveys: the data on sold production comes from PRODCOM and the data on trade from COMEXT. The production data is collected from producing enterprises and the survey is mandatory for enterprises with 20 employees or more. International trade data on the other hand is recorded in the EU Member States where the goods are placed under the customs procedures. Each time a product crosses a border it is registered as a 'trade', and if the same product crosses borders several times, it is recorded as several trades. These specificities should be considered when comparing the production and external trade data.
'Medical and pharmaceutical products' represented 29 % of the sold production of EU chemicals in 2020, while its shares of extra EU exports (52 %) and imports (40 %) were much higher. Its share in intra EU exports was 38%. For 'Organic chemicals' the shares in sold production (15%), extra EU exports (12 %) and intra EU exports (14 %) were roughly equal, while the share in imports was significantly higher (23 %).
Extra-EU trade in chemicals by Member State
Germany (EUR 48 billion), the Netherlands (EUR 37 billion) and Belgium (EUR 36 billion) were the only three EU Member States importing more than EUR 30 billion of chemicals from outside the EU in 2020 (see Table 3).
There were five Member States exporting more than EUR 30 billion of chemicals outside the EU in 2020. These were Germany (EUR 105 billion), Ireland (EUR 55 billion), Belgium (EUR 51 billion), France (EUR 45 billion) and the Netherlands (EUR 41 billion).
In 2020, Germany registered the highest trade surplus in chemicals of any EU Member State (EUR 57 billion) followed by Ireland (EUR 40 billion) and France (EUR 26 billion). The largest deficit was found in Romania (EUR 1 billion).
Source data for tables and graphs
International trade in goods 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 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.
Production of chemicals Industrial production data comes from PRODCOM. Prodcom provides statistics on the production of manufactured goods. Prodcom data includes:
- the physical volume of production sold during the survey period;
- the value of production sold during the survey period; and
- for some products, the volume of total production during the survey period.
Prodcom data is obtained by the National Statistical Institutes (NSIs) who conduct a survey of enterprises. Eurostat calculates EU totals at EU level from the national data.
International trade in chemicals Trade in goods data comes from Eurostat's COMEXT database. 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. 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.
Chemical products are classified according to the Standard International Trade Classification (SITC) of the United Nations. Section 5 ‘Chemicals and related products, N.E.S.’ of SITC Rev. 4 is made up of the following divisions:
- 51 Organic chemicals;
- 52 Inorganic chemicals;
- 53 Dyeing, tanning and colouring materials;
- 54 Medicinal and pharmaceutical products;
- 55 Essential oils and resinoids and perfume materials;
- 56 Fertilizers (other than those of group 272);
- 57 Plastics in primary forms;
- 58 Plastics in non-primary forms; and
- 59 Chemical materials and products, N.E.S.
Through the seventh Environment Action Programme to 2020 (7th EAP) the EU sets policies on chemicals management, of which REACH (the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) is the central element. The main aim of REACH is to ensure a high level of protection of human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals. This includes promoting alternative methods to assess the hazards of substances, the free circulation of substances on the internal market, and the enhancement of competitiveness and innovation in the EU chemical industry.
By providing knowledge about hazardous properties of chemicals and appropriate safety information, REACH is expected to enhance the communication and implementation of conditions of safe use in supply chains and the substitution of dangerous substances by less dangerous ones. In addition, through different types of measures on highly dangerous substances, EU policies aim to reduce the risks to human health and to ecosystems at EU level.
- International trade data (t_ext)
- International trade long-term indicators (t_ext_lti)
- International trade short-term indicators (t_ext_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)
- Detailed data by PRODCOM list (NACE Rev. 2) (prom2)
- Sold production, exports and imports by PRODCOM list (NACE Rev.2) — annual data (DS_066341)
- Total production by PRODCOM list (NACE Rev. 2) — annual data (DS_066342)
- 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 471/2010 of 6 May 2010 on Community statistics relating to external trade with non-member countries
- Summaries of EU Legislation: Extrastat: statistics relating to trade with non-EU countries
- Regulation (EU) No 92/2010 of 2 February 2010 implementing Regulation (EC) No 471/2010, 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 471/2010 , 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.
- Council Regulation (EEC) No 3924/91 of 19 December 1991 on the establishment of a Community survey of industrial production]
- Commission Regulation (EC) No 912/2004 of 29 April 2004 implementing Council Regulation (EEC) No 3924/91 on the establishment of a Community survey of industrial production
- Commission Regulation (EU) No 842/2014 of 4 July 2014 establishing for 2014 the ‘Prodcom list’ of industrial products provided for by Regulation 3924/91