Production and international trade in high-tech products

Data extracted in April 2020

Planned update: April 2021

Highlights

In 2019, high-tech products represented 19% of total extra-EU imports and 18% of total extra-EU exports.

In 2019, China was the main partner for high-tech imports to the EU ahead of the United States and the United Kingdom.

The United States was the main partner for EU exports of high-tech products followed by China and the United Kingdom in 2019.

Total sold production of high-tech products, EU-27, 2008-2018


This article focuses on the trade and production of products identified as being of high-technology. High-tech products are divided into nine groups according to the Standard International Trade Classification (SITC — Rev. 4): Aerospace, computers and office machines, electronics-telecommunications, pharmacy, scientific instruments, electrical machinery, chemistry, non-electrical machinery and armament.

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

Manufacturing of high-tech products

In 2017 the EU-27 had an estimated number of 38 922 enterprises in the high-tech manufacturing sector (Table 1), which represents 0.2 % of the total number of enterprises in the EU. High-tech manufacturers were most numerous in Germany (7 561), Italy (5 400) and Poland (3 662). They had the highest turnover in France (168 166), Germany (167 216) and Italy (57 377) and the highest value added in Germany (60 702), France (39 833) and Italy (19 712). Relative to the total business population the share of high tech manufacturers was highest in Croatia (0.4 %), Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Hungary, Slovenia, Finland and Sweden (all 0.3 %). Relative to the turnover in the total business population the share of high tech manufacturers was highest in Hungary (5.3 %), France (4.5 %) and Finland (4.3 %). Relative to the value added in the total business population the share of high tech manufacturers was highest in Hungary (7.8 %), France (6.2 %) and Belgium (4.4 %).

Table 1 : High-tech manufacturing statistics, 2017
Source: Eurostat (sbs_na_sca_r2)

Sold production of high-tech products

Sold production of high tech products increased from EUR 288 billion in 2008 to EUR 337 billion in 2018. This was equivalent to an average annual increase of 1.6 %.

Figure 1: Total sold production of high-tech products (¹), EU-27, 2008-2018
Source: Eurostat (Prodcom database DS-045339)}

In 2018, the largest category in production of high tech products was pharmacy with EUR 78.3 billion. This was also the category with the highest average annual growth rate (6.8 %) between 2008 and 2018 . There was also growth in the production of armament (5.2 %), aerospace (4.8 %), scientific instruments (3.1 %) and electrical machinery (2.0 %). Production fell in computers office machines (-2.7 %), electronics-telecommunications (-1.8 %), chemistry (-0.7 %) and non-electrical machinery (-0.3 %).

Figure 2: Total sold production of high-tech products, EU-27, 2008-2018
Source: Eurostat (Prodcom database DS-045339)}

In 2018, pharmacy (23 %) was the largest category in the production of high tech goods (Figure 3). Electronics-telecommunications (22 %), scientific instruments (19 %) and aerospace (13 %) were the other categories with a share above 10 %.

Figure 3: Sold production in high-tech sectors, EU-27, 2018
Source: Eurostat (Prodcom database DS-045339)}

EU imports of trade in high-tech products

In 2019 more than half of the EU-27 imports of high-tech products from non EU countries came from China (32.5 %) and the United States (22.5 %) as shown in Figure 4. Between 2009 and 2019 these imports increased from EUR 202 billion to EUR 362 billion, equivalent to an average annual growth rate of 6.0 %. Among the top six partners imports from China increased the most in absolute terms, from EUR 56 billion to EUR 118 billion, while Vietnam with 42.9 % had the highest average annual growth rate.

Figure 4: Imports of high-tech products, top 6 partners, EU-27, 2009-2019
Source: Eurostat (Prodcom database DS-045339)}

Figure 5 shows the top 20 partners (in 2019) from which the EU-27 imported high-tech products. Compared to 2009 Vietnam and Turkey entered the top 20 while Costa Rica and Brazil dropped out.

Figure 5: Imports of high-tech products, top 20 partners, EU-27, 2019
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-18995)}

The largest category in EU-27 imports of high tech product was electronics-telecommunications with EUR 136.1 billion (Figure 6). The category with the highest average annual growth rate between 2009 and 2019 was pharmacy (9.2 %). Growth rates above 5 % were also found in the imports of aerospace (8.7 %), electrical machinery (8.4 %), armament (7.8 %), electronics-telecommunications (6.4 %), non-electrical machinery and scientific instruments (both 5.3 %). Imports of computers office machines (3.0 %) grew less strong while imports fell in chemistry (-0.3 %).

Figure 6: Extra EU-27 imports of high-tech products by category, 2009-2019
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-018995)}

For four (China, the United Kingdom, Vietnam and Malaysia) of the six top partners, the largest category in EU-27 imports of high-tech products was electronics-telecommunications in 2019 (Figure 7). Only for Switzerland (pharmacy) and the United States (aerospace) a different category was the largest. Both the United States and China were the top partner in four categories, while the United Kingdom was the main partner in the chemistry category.

Figure 7: Imports of high-tech products, top 6 trading partners, EU-27, 2019
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-18995)}

Between 2009 and 2019 high-tech imports from China (EUR 61 billion), United States( EUR 39 billion) and Vietnam (EUR 14 billion) increased most (Table 2). The main contributing category to the increase of imports from China was scientific instruments with EUR 36 billion. The main contributing category to the increase of imports from United States was aerospace with EUR 19 billion. The main contributing category to the increase of imports from Vietnam was scientific instruments with EUR 12 billion.

Table 2: Variations in imports of high-tech products, main partners, EU-27, 2009-2019
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-18995)}

EU exports of trade in high-tech products

In 2019 almost a quarter of the EU-27 exports of high-tech products to non EU countries went to the United States (24.7 %) followed at some distance by China (11.7 %) and the United Kingdom (11.0 %). Between 2009 and 2019 these exports increased from EUR 188 billion to EUR 382 billion, equivalent to an annual average growth rate of 7.4 %. Among the top six partners exports to United States increased the most in absolute terms, from EUR 36 billion to EUR 94 billion, while China with 12.9 % had the highest average annual growth rate (figure 8).

Figure 8: Exports of high-tech products, top 6 partners, EU-27, 2009-2019
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-18995)}

Figure 9 shows the top 20 partners to which the EU-27 exports high-tech products in 2019. Compared to 2009 Mexico entered the top 20 while Brazil dropped out.

Figure 9 : Exports of high-tech products, top 20 partners, EU-27, 2019
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-18995)}

The largest category in the exports of high tech product was pharmacy with EUR 91.7 billion in 2019 (Figure 10). This was also the category with the highest average annual growth rate (12.9 %) between 2009 and 2019. Growth rates above 5 % were also found in the exports of aerospace (9.4 %), scientific instruments (7.6 %) and electrical machinery (5.8 %). Growth rates were lower in computers office machines (2.2 %), non-electrical machinery (2.9 %), chemistry (3.1 %), armament (3.8 %) and electronics-telecommunications (4.9 %).

Figure 10: Extra EU-27 exports of high-tech products by category, 2009-2019
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-018995)}


In 2019, for the United States, Switzerland, Japan and Russia, the largest category in EU-27 exports of high-tech products was pharmacy (Figure 11). For China and the United Kingdom it was electronics-telecommunication. In seven categories the United Staes was the largest export destination for EU-27 exports. A different top partner was only seen in electronics-telecommunication (China) and computers office machines (the United Kingdom).

Figure 11: Exports of high-tech products, top 6 trading partners, EU-27, 2019
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-18995)}

Between 2009 and 2019 high-tech imports from United States (EUR 58 billion), China( EUR 31 billion) and United Kingdom (EUR 14 billion) increased most (Table 3). The main contributing category to the increase of imports from United States was pharmacy with EUR 29 billion. The main contributing category to the increase of imports from China was electronics-telecommunications with EUR 11 billion. The main contributing category to the increase of imports from United Kingdom was pharmacy with EUR 4 billion.

Table 3: Variations in exports of high-tech products, main partners, EU-27, 2009-2019
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-18995)}

EU trade balance in high-tech products

The EU-27 has a large trade deficit with China (EUR 73 billion) in 2019 (Figure 12a). The only other partner with a trade deficit exceeding EUR 10 billion is Vietnam (EUR 11 billion), The EU-27 has a trade surplus above EUR 10 billion with the United Kingdom (EUR 16 billion), the United States (EUR 13 billion) and Russia (EUR 11 billion). Countries for which the trade balance fell between - EUR 5 billion and + EUR 5 billion are shown separately in Figure 12b.

Figure 12a :Balance of trade in high-tech products, main partners, EU-27, 2019
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-18995)}
Figure 12b: Balance of trade in high-tech products, details, EU-27, 2019
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-18995)}

The trade deficit with China in 2019 is largely due to deficits in electronics-telecommunications (EUR 48 billion) and computers office machines (EUR 39 billion) as shown in Table 4. The surplus with the United Kingdom was spread over more categories. The four largest were pharmacy (EUR 4 billion), electronics-telecommunications, scientific instruments and computers office machines (all three EUR 3 billion). With the United States there is a large deficit in aerospace (EUR 14 billion) but an even larger surplus in pharmacy (EUR 18 billion).

Table 4 :Trade balance of high-tech products for top 20 partners, EU-27, 2019
Source: Eurostat (Comext database DS-18995)}

Data sources

Multiple data sources High-tech statistics uses various other domains and sources mainly within Eurostat's official statistics:

  • International trade in goods statistics (COMEXT);
  • Statistics on the production of manufactured goods (PRODCOM);
  • Community innovation survey (CIS);
  • Human resources in science and technology (HRST);
  • Labour force survey (LFS);
  • Structural business statistics (SBS);
  • Research and development (R & D);
  • Structure of earnings survey (SES);
  • Patent database (PATSTAT).

The coverage and availability of high-tech statistics are then dependent on these other primary sources.

Trade in high-tech products

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 EU-27 data reflect the political change in the EU composition. Therefore the United Kingdom is considered as an extra-EU partner country for the EU-27. However, the United Kingdom is still part of the internal market until the end of the transitory period, meaning that data on trade with the United Kingdom are still based on statistical concepts applicable to trade between the EU Member States. As a consequence, while imports from any other extra-EU-27 trade partner are grouped by country of origin, the United Kingdom data reflect country of consignment. In practice this means that the goods imported by the EU-27 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-27 trade partners.

The product approach is used for data on high-tech trade. The product list is based on the calculations of R & D intensity by groups of products (R & D expenditure/total sales). The groups classified as high-technology products are aggregated on the basis of the Standard international trade classification (SITC). Due to the revision of SITC from SITC Rev. 3 to SITC Rev. 4, the definition of high-tech products also changed in 2011. The data in this article use the high-tech aggregation by SITC Rev. 4. This list, based on the OECD definition, contains technical products of which the manufacturing involved a high intensity of R & D.

Production of high-tech products

Industrial production data comes from PRODCOM. Prodcom provides statistics on the production of manufactured goods. The Prodcom data includes:

  • the physical volume of production sold during the survey period;
  • the value of production sold during the survey period;
  • for some products, the volume of total production during the survey period;

The Prodcom data is obtained by the National Statistical Institutes (NSIs) who conduct a survey of enterprises. Eurostat calculates EU totals at EU-28 level from the national data.

Data limitations

List of the PRODCOM products without correspondence in COMEXT:

2844 10 10 2844 30 51 8523 49 25 8523 51 99
2844 10 30 2844 30 55 8523 49 31 8710 00 00
2844 10 50 2844 30 61 8523 49 39 9301 10 00
2844 10 90 2844 30 69 8523 49 45 9301 20 00
2844 20 25 2844 30 91 8523 49 51 9301 90 00
2844 20 35 2844 30 99 8523 49 59 9305 91 00
2844 20 51 2844 40 10 8523 49 91 9306 30 30
2844 20 59 2844 40 20 8523 49 93 9306 90 10
2844 20 99 2844 40 30 8523 49 99
2844 30 11 2844 40 80 8523 51 91
2844 30 19 2844 50 00 8523 51 93

Labels for these codes can be found HERE.

Context

In the context of economic globalisation, technology is a key factor in enhancing growth and competitiveness in business. High-tech industries are expanding most strongly in international trade and their dynamism helps to improve performance in other sectors. Investment in research, development, innovation and skills constitutes a key policy area for the EU as it is essential to economic growth and to the development of a knowledge-based economy.

Certain WTO Members including the EU have joined the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) which provides duty free access to high-tech products, including computers, telephones and inputs and components such as semiconductors. The new, expanded ITA agreement concluded recently will reduce the costs for consumers and for manufacturing IT products in Europe. It will offer new market access for many of Europe's high tech companies – some of which are leaders in their fields – and encourage innovation by simplifying access to state-of-the-art technology. As such, it will contribute to the further development of the digital economy in the EU.

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Traditional international trade database access (ComExt)
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_056120)
High-tech industry and knowledge-intensive services (htec)
High-tech industry and knowledge-intensive services: economic statistics at national level (htec_eco)
Venture capital investments (htec_vci)
Economic statistics on high-tech industries and Knowledge Intensive Services at the national level (from 2008 onwards, NACE Rev. 2) (htec_eco_sbs2)