World trade in services
Data extracted in June 2022.
Planned article update: July 2023.
In 2021, the EU was the world’s largest exporter and importer of services.
In 2021, EU extra-EU trade in services accounted for 30.9 % of the total value of trade in goods and services.
Globalisation patterns in EU trade and investment is an online Eurostat publication presenting a summary of recent European Union (EU) statistics on economic aspects of globalisation, focusing on patterns of EU trade and investment.
Services are an increasingly important part of the global economy and play a central role in each of the EU Member States. The services sector contributes considerably more than other sectors (such as agriculture, industry or construction) to gross domestic product (GDP) and employment within the EU, accounting for approximately three quarters of total economic activity. However, the global value of international trade in goods is more than three times as high as that for trade in services. This imbalance in levels of international trade may be attributed, among other factors, to the intangible nature of services.
- Some services are non-transportable and can only be consumed at their point-of-sale requiring either producer or consumer to cross a border in order to be exported.
- Many countries regulate areas like professional services – for example, the legal professions, tax consultants or accountants – which are bound by national legislation.
- There are a range of services (at least in Europe) which are largely supplied by the public sector (for example, health or education services) and trade in these areas is often restricted.
- Services cover a heterogeneous range of products/activities that are difficult to encapsulate within a simple definition, often these are tailored specifically to a client’s needs and so, unlike goods, they have a tendency not to be homogeneous, mass-produced items. As such, they are sometimes difficult to separate from the goods with which they may be associated or bundled.
Box 1 – Services trade statistics by modes of supply
Statistics on the international supply of services by mode of supply are being developed primarily to meet the needs of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) trade negotiators and analysts. Statistics are required to support negotiations and to monitor the impact of services trade agreements.
Services differ from goods in respect of the immediacy of the relationship between supplier and consumer. Many services are non-transportable. In other words, they often require the physical proximity of supplier and customer, as in the case of accommodation services for example.
International trade in services – overview
Statistics on international trade in services
The main methodological references used for the production of statistics on international trade in services are:
- the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF’s) Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Manual (BPM6);
- the IMF’s Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Compilation Guide (BPM6 CG);
- Eurostat’s BoP Vademecum reference document for the transmission of data on international trade in services;
- the United Nations’ Manual on Statistics of International Trade in Services (MSITS 2010);
- the extended balance of payments services classification (EBOPS 2010);
- GATS – General Agreement on Trade in Services;
- MSITS Compilers Guide 2010.
All of the international trade in services statistics presented in this online publication are based upon the BPM6 methodology, adopted by the EU Member States from reference year 2013 onwards. A time series exists starting in 2010 for the EU aggregate, as Eurostat have estimated missing values for 2010 to 2012 when they have not been provided by Member States. Less detailed services data, used as components for the quarterly balance of payments are available for the EU since 1999, with even longer time series available from some Member States.
Statistics on international trade in services provide the monetary value of such trade for three different modes of supply identified in the GATS: the first, second and fourth modes, as detailed in 'Box 1' above, namely cross-border supply, consumption abroad and the presence of a natural person. As such, the information presented here excludes services provided by foreign affiliates (mode 3) to other economies, as they are considered to be non-residents in the compiling country/economic area. The data are produced from transactions recorded under a country’s balance of payments (based on the trade that takes place between an economy’s residents and non-residents).
In 2021, the EU was the world’s largest exporter and importer of services
The EU was the world’s largest trader of services: in 2021, its exports of services were valued at €1 027 billion and its imports at €894 billion. Based on 2020 data for world trade in services, the EU accounted for more than one quarter of global exports (25.9 %) and global imports (26.2 %). For comparison, the shares of the United States were 17.6 % for exports and 12.0 % for imports, while those for China were 5.7 % for exports and 10.0 % for imports (see Table 1).
The United States ran the largest trade surplus for trade in services among the trading nations that are shown in Table 2 – some €194 billion in 2021— while the United Kingdom had the second largest surplus (€148 billion), followed by the EU (€133 billion); aside from these, there were five other countries among those shown in Table 2 that recorded trade surpluses for international trade in services in 2021, namely, India, Turkey, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia.
The highest cover ratios – the value of exports divided by the value of imports, expressed as a percentage – for trade in services were recorded for Turkey (184.0 %), India (174.4 %) and the United Kingdom (171.9 %), suggesting that the relative importance of service exports was particularly high for each of these economies. Travel services and transport services were particularly important in Turkey, telecoms, computer and information services in India, and insurance and pension services and financial services in the United Kingdom.
China had a sizeable trade deficit for services in 2021
By contrast, the biggest deficit for international trade in services was recorded by China (€84 billion in 2021). This trade gap was also depicted through the relatively low Chinese cover ratio for services (77.2 % in 2021). There were four countries (among those for which data are shown in Table 2) which had cover ratios for services that were lower than in China: Russia (74.1 %), Mexico (70.5 %), South Africa (67.0 %) and Brazil (66.0 %).
In 2021, EU international trade in services accounted for 30.9 % of the total value of trade in goods and services – this share has been rising in recent years
Figure 1 provides an alternative analysis of aggregate figures for services trade, presenting the relative importance of international trade in services compared with the value of trade in goods and services combined (hereafter, total trade). In 2020, services accounted for an average share of 22.1 % of the world’s total trade; this could be compared with a share of 19.6 % in 2011, confirming that services were a growing part of world total trade. Note that this share had been higher prior to the COVID-19 crisis, reaching 24.5 % in 2019. However, the impact of the pandemic led to a dramatic reduction in trade for a number of specific services, such as transport services and travel services.
Within the EU, the relative share of services in total trade also rose, up from 25.6 % in 2011 to 30.9 % in 2021, as international transactions for services became increasingly important to the performance of the EU economy. Prior to the pandemic, the share of services in total EU trade had peaked at 33.0 % in 2018.
In relative terms, the share of services in total trade grew at a quicker pace (than in the EU) in Japan, India and most notably Singapore. By contrast, the share of services in total trade fell modestly between 2011 and 2021 in China, Canada, Mexico and the United States. There were more sizeable contractions in the services share in Russia, Brazil, Australia, South Africa and Hong Kong. This pattern may be explained, at least in part, by rising prices for primary, energy and agricultural products – in which several of these countries are specialised – resulting in these goods capturing a higher relative share of their total trade.
Between 2011 and 2021, Singapore recorded the fastest growth for trade in services
During the period from 2011 to 2021, the value of EU exports of services increased every year up until the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in 2020. Exports rose from €610 billion in 2011 to €1 072 billion in 2019, before falling to €910 billion in 2020 (down 15.1 %) and rebounding to €1 027 billion in 2021 (up 12.8 %). There was an overall increase of 68.3 % in the value of EU exports of services between 2011 and 2021.
The value of EU imports of services also grew each and every year between 2011 and 2019, before the impact of the COVID-19 crisis led to a fall of 14.1 % in 2020. Contrary to the rapid rebound recorded for exports, there was only a modest increase in the value of EU imports of services in 2021 (up 1.9 %). Overall, imports of services into the EU were 74.9 % higher in 2021 than in 2011 (see Figure 2).
Some of the EU’s global competitors reported even faster rates of growth for the value of their international trade in services. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Singapore and India, where both imports and exports of services were more than twice as high in 2021 as in 2011; services exports from China almost doubled during this period, while services imports into China more than doubled.
International trade in services – by service category
Statistics on international trade in services by service category
Since the adoption of the sixth edition of the Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Manual (BPM6), international trade statistics for services have been grouped into 12 main categories: manufacturing services on physical inputs owned by others; maintenance and repair services; transport; travel; construction; insurance and pension services; financial services; charges for the use of intellectual property; telecommunications, computer and information services; other business services; personal, cultural and recreational services; government goods and services. Note that more detailed information is collected for 97 different services and that these data are available in Eurostat’s online database for more in-depth analyses.
In 2021, the EU was particularly specialised in exporting and importing other business services …
Table 3 shows the countries which recorded the highest levels of trade across each of the 12 main service categories in 2021. As for international trade in goods, the leading global exporters and importers of services, in absolute terms, were unsurprisingly some of the largest economies. The EU had the highest value of exports for more than half of the service categories shown (7 out of the 12). However, the size of the export markets for these different services varied considerably:
- EU exports of other business services (which include, for example, research and development services, legal, accounting, business and management consulting services, advertising, architectural, engineering, scientific and other technical services) were valued at €252 billion (equivalent to 24.5 % of all EU exports of services in 2021);
- the smallest of the seven services where the EU had the highest level of exports, maintenance and repair services, had exports valued at €17.9 billion (1.7 % of the EU total).
The five other services where the EU recorded the highest global levels of exports in 2021 were: telecommunication, computer and information services; transport services; travel services; manufacturing services; insurance and pension services.
The EU (also) recorded the highest value of imports for 7 out of the 12 service categories shown in Table 3. The EU’s imports were highest for other business services (€294 billion), which accounted for almost one third (32.8 %) of the total value of services imported into the EU in 2021.
… while emerging economies quite often recorded the highest export specialisation rates for various service categories
Table 4 provides an alternative analysis focusing on relative specialisation ratios. The highest ratios were quite often recorded for emerging economies and were spread across a broad range of economies.
- China had the highest specialisation ratio in 2021 for manufacturing services. The share of this category in Chinese exports was almost three times as high as the average for the 15 leading trading nations / geographical aggregates for which this analysis is presented.
- India was the most specialised country for exporting telecommunication, computer and information services. The share of this category in Indian exports was more than three times as high as the average.
- Mexico was the only country to appear more than once in the ranking of the most specialised exporters for these 12 service categories. It was the most specialised in travel services as well as insurance and pension services.
The information presented in Table 5 reverses the focus of the analysis, detailing for each country/geographical aggregate where its relative trade specialisation (among the 12 service categories which form the basis of this analysis) lies. In 2021, the highest export specialisation ratio for the EU was recorded for manufacturing services, while for imports the highest ratio was for charges for the use of intellectual property.
- China was specialised in exports of construction services.
- Hong Kong (2020 data) was specialised in exports of financial services.
- India was specialised in exports of telecommunication, computer and information services.
- Mexico, South Africa and Turkey were specialised in exports of travel services.
- The United Kingdom was specialised in exports of insurance and pension services.
Source data for tables and graphs
Tables in this article use the following notation:
|Value in italics||data value is forecasted, provisional or estimated and is therefore likely to change.|
Direct access to
- Balance of payments – international transactions (BPM6) (ESMS metadata file – bop_6_esms)
Further methodological information