International trade in goods

From Statistics Explained

Data from August 2014. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: September 2015.
Figure 1: Main players for international trade, 2012
(billion EUR) - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introle) and (ext_lt_intercc)
Table 1: Main players for external trade, 2002, 2007 and 2012
(billion EUR) - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introle) and (ext_lt_intercc)
Figure 2: Shares in the world market for exports, 2012
(% share of world exports) - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introle)
Figure 3: Shares in the world market for imports, 2012
(% share of world imports) - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introle)
Figure 4: Development of international trade, EU-28, 2003–13 (1)
(billion EUR) - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intertrd)
Table 2: International trade, 2012–13 - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intertrd), (ext_lt_intercc) and (ext_lt_introle)
Table 3: Extra EU-28 trade, 2013 - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intratrd)
Table 4: Intra EU-28 trade, 2012 and 2013
(billion EUR) - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intratrd)
Figure 5: Intra and extra EU-28 trade, 2013
(imports plus exports, % share of total trade) - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intratrd)
Figure 6: Main trading partners for exports, EU-28, 2013
(% share of extra EU-28 exports) - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_maineu)
Figure 7: Main trading partners for imports, EU-28, 2013
(% share of extra EU-28 imports) - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_maineu)
Table 5: Extra EU-28 trade by main trading partners, EU-28, 2003–13 (1)
(billion EUR) - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_maineu)
Table 6: Extra EU-28 trade by main products, EU-28, 2008, 2012 and 2013 - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intertrd)
Figure 8: Main exports, EU-28, 2008 and 2013
(% share of extra EU-28 exports) - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intratrd)
Figure 9: Main imports, EU-28, 2008 and 2013
(% share of extra EU-28 imports) - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intratrd)

This article discusses the development of the European Union’s (EU) international trade in goods. It considers the EU’s share in world import and export markets, intra-EU trade, the EU’s main trading partners, and the EU’s most widely traded product categories.

The EU-28 accounts for around one sixth of the world’s trade in goods. The value of international trade in goods significantly exceeds that of services (by about three times), reflecting the nature of some services which makes them harder to move across borders.

Main statistical findings

Extra-EU trade

EU-28 international trade in goods with the rest of the world (the sum of extra-EU exports and imports) was valued at EUR 3 419 billion (= EUR 3 419 000 million) in 2013 — see Table 2; while EU-28 exports registered a record level, imports decreased by more than EUR 100 billion in comparison with 2012. As a result, the EU-28’s trade balance was positive for the first time since the beginning of the series (data for the extra-EU exports for the EU-28 are available since 2002).

After experiencing a sharp fall in both exports and imports in 2009, the EU-28 saw its exports rise to a record level of EUR 1 737 billion in 2013, an increase of 3.2 % compared with the year before. The largest increase was registered for the residual category of commodities and transactions not elsewhere classified (SITC 9), and in particular for exports of non-monetary gold (SITC 971). Imports of goods into the EU-28 fell by 6.5 % in 2013 to be valued at EUR 1 682 billion, with the largest reductions recorded for imports of mineral fuels and lubricant products (SITC 3) and imports of raw materials (SITC 2).

Germany remained by far the largest player in relation to extra EU-28 trade in 2013, contributing 27.1 % of the EU-28’s exports of goods to non-member countries and accounting for almost one fifth (18.8 %) of the EU-28’s imports (see Table 3). The next three largest exporters, the United Kingdom (13.3 %), Italy (10.4 %) and France (10.2 %), remained the same as in 2012, and were the only other EU Member States to account for a double-digit share of EU-28 exports. The Netherlands (14.2 %), the United Kingdom (14.0 %), France (9.8 %) and Italy (9.5 %) followed Germany as the largest importers of goods from non-member countries in 2013; the relatively high share for the Netherlands can, at least in part, be explained by the considerable amount of goods that flow into the EU through Rotterdam — the EU’s leading sea port. The largest extra EU-28 trade surplus in goods, valued at EUR 154.0 billion, was recorded by Germany, followed by Ireland (EUR 22.5 billion) and Italy (EUR 20.0 billion).

Intra-EU trade

Trade in goods between EU Member States (intra-EU trade) was valued — in terms of dispatches — at EUR 2 839 billion in 2013 (see Table 4). This was about two thirds higher than the level recorded for exports from the EU-28 to non-member countries (extra-EU trade). The importance of the EU’s internal market was underlined by the fact that intra-EU trade of goods was higher than extra-EU trade for each EU Member State, with the exceptions of Greece and the United Kingdom (see Figure 5). The proportion of total trade in goods that was accounted for by intra-EU and extra-EU flows varied considerably across the Member States, reflecting to some degree historical ties and geographical location. The highest shares of intra-EU trade (almost 80 % of total trade) were recorded for Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with this ratio falling to 48.3 % in the United Kingdom and 47.0 % in Greece.

Intra EU-28 trade — again measured by dispatches — decreased marginally (by 0.1 %) across the EU-28 between 2012 and 2013; this was the first reduction in intra EU-28 dispatches since 2009. Considering arrivals and dispatches together, the biggest increases in intra-EU trade were registered for Romania (6.1 %), Bulgaria (5.8 %) and Lithuania (5.3 %), while Malta (-20.4 %), Cyprus (-11.0 %) and Luxembourg (-7.4 %) recorded the largest reductions in intra-EU trade in 2013.

Analysis of main trading partners

Between 2012 and 2013, the development of the EU-28’s exports of goods by major trading partner varied considerably. The highest growth rate was recorded for exports to Switzerland (up 27.0 %), while exports to South Korea, Turkey and China grew more slowly (up 5.8 %, 3.1 % and 3.0 % respectively) — see Table 5. The biggest fall was registered in relation to exports to India (down 6.9 %), and there were smaller reductions for exports to Russia (down 2.9 %), Japan (down 2.8 %) and the United States (down 1.6 %).

Nevertheless, the United States remained, by far, the most common destination for goods exported from the EU-28 in 2013 (see Figure 6), although the share of EU-28 exports destined for the United States fell from 26.4 % of the total in 2003 to 16.6 % by 2013. In value terms, the product category with the highest level of EU-28 exports to the United States in 2013 was machinery and transport equipment. The same group of products was also the main export category for goods destined for China, which was the third most important destination market for EU-28 exports in 2013 (8.5 % of the EU-28 total), after Switzerland (9.8 %).

On the import side, between 2012 and 2013 the EU-28 saw a decrease in the level of its imports of goods from all of its main partners, except those from Turkey (up 4.4 %). The greatest falls were registered for imports from Japan (down 12.7 %), Brazil (down 11.8 %), Switzerland (down 11.0 %) and Norway (down 10.9 %). China — which was the origin of one sixth of all imports into the EU-28 in 2013 — remained the most important supplier of goods imported into the EU-28 in 2013 (see Figure 7), even though imports from China fell by 4.0 % between 2012 and 2013. Imports from China registered a reduction for all the main product categories, with the exception of chemicals (up 1.1 %) and food, drinks and tobacco (up 0.2 %).

Analysis of main product groups

Relatively small increases in the level of exports outside the EU-28 were reported for the two product groups with the highest level of exports in 2013, namely, machinery and transport equipment (up 0.6 %) and other manufactured goods (up 1.0 %). The highest growth rate for EU-28 exports in 2013 was recorded for exports of food, drinks and tobacco, which reached the record value of EUR 104.3 billion (see Table 6).

Food, drinks and tobacco was also the only product group to show an increase in EU-28 imports in 2013 (up 0.4 %). The largest reduction in imports between 2012 and 2013 was registered for mineral fuels and lubricant products (down 9.1 %); these products accounted for the highest level of EU-28 imports in value terms. The reduction in imports of mineral fuels and lubricant products was driven by an 8.3 % decrease in the value of imported petroleum products (the fall in quantity terms was -2.8 %). Almost one third (32.2 %) of the EU-28’s imports of mineral fuels and lubricant products in 2013 came from Russia, followed by Norway (9.9 %), Algeria (6.3 %), Nigeria (5.5 %) and Saudi Arabia (5.0 %).

The EU-28’s trade surplus for goods of EUR 54.6 billion in 2013 was driven by a positive trade balance in relation to machinery and transport equipment, which stood at EUR 275.0 billion, and in relation to chemicals, (EUR 115.5 billion). These were offset by a trade deficit of EUR 377.8 billion for mineral fuels and lubricant products, which marked a decrease when compared with a record deficit for these goods in 2012 (EUR 422.9 billion).

Data sources and availability

Statistics on the international trade of goods measure the value and quantity of goods traded between EU Member States (known as intra-EU trade) and goods traded by EU Member States with non-member countries (known as extra-EU trade). These statistics are the official source of information about imports, exports and the trade balance in the EU, its Member States and the euro area.

Statistics are published for each declaring country with respect to each partner country, for several product classifications. One of the most commonly used product classifications is the Standard international trade classification (SITC Rev. 4) of the United Nations (UN); this allows a comparison of international trade statistics to be made on a worldwide basis.

In extra-EU trade statistics, the data shown for the EU-28 treat this entity as a single trading block. In other words, the data for exports relate only to those exports from the EU-28 that leave the trading block and are destined for the rest of the world, while extra-EU imports relate to imports from the rest of the world (non-member countries) coming into the EU-28. By contrast, when reporting data for individual EU Member States, international trade flows are generally presented in terms of world trade flows (including both intra-EU and extra-EU partners).

  • imports are goods which enter the statistical territory of the EU from a non-member country and are placed under the customs procedure for free circulation (as a general rule goods intended for consumption), inward processing, or processing under customs control (goods for working, processing), either immediately or after a period in a customs warehouse;
  • exports are goods which leave the statistical territory of the EU for a non-member country after being placed under the customs procedure for exports (definitive export), outward processing, or re-exportation following either inward processing or processing under customs control.

Statistics on trade with non-member countries do not, therefore, include goods in transit or those placed under a customs procedure for bonded warehousing or temporary entry (for fairs, exhibitions, tests, etc.), nor do they include re-export following entry under one of these procedures.

Statistics on trade between the EU Member States (intra-EU trade) cover arrivals and dispatches of goods recorded by each Member State. Arrivals and dispatches are defined as follows:

  • arrivals are goods in free circulation within the EU which enter the statistical territory of a given Member State;
  • dispatches are goods in free circulation within the EU which leave the statistical territory of a given Member State to enter another Member State.

Customs records are the traditional source of statistical data on trade in goods. The beginning of the single market on 1 January 1993, with its removal of customs formalities between EU Member States, made it necessary to adopt a new data collection system, Intrastat, as the basis for statistics on intra-EU trade. In the Intrastat system, statistical data are collected directly from trade operators — who are requested to send monthly declarations to their national statistical administration.

The statistical values of extra-EU trade and intra-EU trade are recorded at their free-on-board (FOB) value for exports / dispatches and their cost, insurance and freight (CIF) value for imports / arrivals. The values reported comprise only those subsidiary costs (freight and insurance) which relate, for exports / dispatches, to the journey within the territory of the Member State from which the goods are exported / dispatched and, for imports / arrivals, to the journey outside the territory of the Member State into which the goods are imported / arrive.


Statistics on the international trade of goods are used extensively by decision makers at an international, EU and national level. Businesses may use international trade data to carry out market research and define their commercial strategy. International trade statistics are also used by EU institutions in their preparation of multilateral and bilateral trade negotiations, for defining and implementing anti-dumping policies, for the purposes of macroeconomic and monetary policies, and in evaluating the progress of the single market, or the integration of European economies.

The development of trade can be an opportunity for economic growth. The EU has a common trade policy, whereby the European Commission negotiates trade agreements and represents the EU’s interests on behalf of its 28 Member States. The European Commission consults Member States through an advisory committee which discusses the full range of trade policy issues affecting the EU including multilateral, bilateral and unilateral instruments. As such, trade policy is an exclusive power of the EU — so only the EU, and not individual Member States, can legislate on trade matters and conclude international trade agreements. This scope extends beyond trade in goods, to cover trade in services, intellectual property and foreign direct investment.

Globally, multilateral trade issues are dealt with under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Its membership covers 160 countries (as of June 2014), with several candidate members in the process of joining. The WTO sets the global rules for trade, provides a forum for trade negotiations, and for settling disputes between members. The European Commission negotiates with its WTO partners and participated in the latest round of WTO multilateral trade negotiations, known as the Doha Development Agenda (DDA). However, having missed deadlines to conclude these talks in 2005 and again in 2006, the Doha round of talks broke down again at a WTO meeting in July 2008. In December 2013, progress was made on some areas with the adoption in Bali (Indonesia) of a package of agreements, including action on trade facilitation, a commitment to reduce export subsidies in agriculture, and further issues related to development such as food security in developing countries.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

International trade data (t_ext)
International trade long-term indicators (t_ext_lti)
International trade short-term indicators (t_ext_sti)


International trade data (ext)
International trade long-term indicators (ext_lti)
International trade short-term indicators (ext_sti)
International trade detailed data (detail)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

Other information

External links