International trade in goods

From Statistics Explained

Data from January 2014. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: August 2014.
Figure 1: Main players for international trade, 2012
(EUR 1 000 million) - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_introle) and (ext_lt_intercc)
Table 1: Main players for external trade, 2002, 2007 and 2012
(EUR 1 000 million) - 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, 2002–12 (1)
(EUR 1 000 million) - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intertrd) and DS-016894
Table 2: International trade, 2011–12
(EUR 1 000 million) - Source: Eurostat (tet00002), (tet00018), (ext_lt_intercc) and (ext_lt_introle)
Table 3: Extra EU-28 trade, 2012 - Source: Eurostat (tet00038) and (DS-016894)
Table 4: Intra EU-28 trade, 2011 and 2012
(EUR 1 000 million) - Source: Eurostat (tet00039) and (DS-016894)
Figure 5: Intra and extra EU-28 trade, 2012
(imports plus exports, % share of total trade) - Source: Eurostat (ext_lt_intratrd) and (DS-016894)
Figure 6: Main trading partners for exports, EU-28, 2012
(% share of extra EU-28 exports) - Source: Eurostat (tet00040) and (DS-016894)
Figure 7: Main trading partners for imports, EU-28, 2012
(% share of extra EU-28 imports) - Source: Eurostat (tet00040)
Table 5: Extra EU-28 trade by main trading partners, EU-28, 2002–12 (1)
(EUR 1 000 million) - Source: Eurostat (tet00040) and (DS-016894)
Table 6: Extra EU-28 trade by main products, EU-28, 2007, 2011 and 2012 - Source: Eurostat (tet00061) and (DS-018995)
Figure 8: Main exports, EU-28, 2007 and 2012
(% share of extra EU-28 exports) - Source: Eurostat (tet00061) and (DS-018995)
Figure 9: Main imports, EU-28, 2007 and 2012
(% share of extra EU-28 imports) - Source: Eurostat (tet00061) and (DS-018995)

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 3 481 148 million in 2012 — see Figure 1; as such, trade activity for the EU-28 registered record levels for both exports and imports. In comparison with a year before, total trade in the EU-28 increased by EUR 198 583 million in 2012.

After experiencing a sharp fall in both exports and imports in 2009, the EU-28 saw its exports rise each year thereafter to reach a record level of EUR 1 683 076 million in 2012, an increase of 8.3 % compared with the year before. This was largely driven by increases in the level of exports of the two largest categories, machinery and transport equipment and other manufactured goods. Imports of goods rose by 4.0 % in 2012 and also reached a record level, valued at EUR 1 798 072 million, with the largest gains recorded for imports of mineral fuels and lubricant products and chemicals.

Germany remained by far the largest player in relation to extra EU-28 trade in 2012, contributing 28.0 % of the EU-28’s exports to non-member countries and accounting for almost one fifth (18.5 %) of the EU-28’s imports — see Table 3. The next three largest exporters, the United Kingdom (10.9 %), France (10.8 %) and Italy (10.6 %), remained the same as in 2011, and were the only other Member States to account for a double-digit share of EU-28 exports. The United Kingdom (15.6 %), the Netherlands (14.0 %), Italy (9.9 %) and France (9.6 %) followed Germany as the largest importers of goods from non-member countries; 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 138 674 million, was recorded by Germany, followed by Ireland (EUR 21 137 million) and Sweden (EUR 16 182 million).

Intra-EU trade

Trade in goods between EU Member States (intra-EU trade) was valued — in terms of dispatches — at EUR 2 840 337 million in 2012 — see Table 4. This was 1.7 times as high as 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 in each of the EU Member States, 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 (just under 80.0 %) were recorded for Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with this ratio falling to 48.9 % in the United Kingdom and 45.3 % in Greece.

Intra EU-28 trade — measured by dispatches — increased by 0.6 % across the EU-28 between 2011 and 2012; this was a lower rate of increase than that recorded for extra-EU exports (which rose by 8.3 %). Considering arrivals and dispatches together, the biggest increases in intra-EU trade were registered for Latvia (14.0 %), Malta (13.3 %) and Lithuania (11.7 %), while Cyprus (-8.7 %), Greece (-7.3 %), Spain (-4.1 %), Portugal (-4.0 %), Italy (-3.6 %) and Luxembourg (-3.4 %) recorded the largest reductions in intra-EU trade in 2012.

Analysis of main trading partners

Between 2011 and 2012, the EU-28’s exports of goods to most of its major trading partners increased. The highest growth rate was recorded for exports to South Korea (up 16.2 %) and Russia (up 13.6 %), while exports to the United States grew more slowly (up 10.9 %) — see Table 5. However, the United States remained, by far, the most important destination for goods exported from the EU-28 in 2012 (see Figure 6), although the share of EU-28 exports destined for the United States fell from 28.0 % of the total in 2002 to 17.4 % by 2012. In value terms, the most important EU-28 exports to the United States in 2012 included machinery and transport equipment. The same group of products was also the main export category to China, which was the second most important destination market for EU-28 exports in 2012 (8.6 % of the EU-28 total), followed by Switzerland (7.9 %).

On the import side, between 2011 and 2012 the EU-28 saw an increase in the level of its imports of goods from Russia (up 6.8 %), the United States (up 7.5 %), Norway (up 7.6 %), and especially from Switzerland (up 13.3 %). China remained the most important supplier of goods imported into the EU-28 in 2012, even though imports from China fell by 1.1 % between 2011 and 2012. Imports from China registered a reduction in all the main categories, with the exception of imports of machinery and transport equipment (up 0.8 %).

Analysis of main product groups

Sharp increases in the level of exports outside the EU-28 were reported for all major product groups in 2012. The highest growth rate for EU-28 exports in 2012 was recorded for exports of mineral fuels and lubricant products, which reached the record value of EUR 125 514 million, 25.2 % higher than in 2011.

Two product groups, namely raw materials and other manufactured goods, registered a decline in imports between 2011 and 2012. Mineral fuels and lubricant products — the largest category of imports since 2011 — experienced growth of 11.1 % in 2012, driven by a 12.7 % increase in the value of imported petroleum products. Almost one third (30.0 %) of the EU-28’s imports of mineral fuels and lubricant products in 2012 came from Russia, followed by Norway (10.2 %), Libya (6.0 %), Nigeria and Algeria (5.8 % each).

The EU-28’s trade deficit of EUR 114 996 million in 2012 was driven by the sizeable deficit in relation to mineral fuels and lubricant products, which stood at EUR 422 629 million. This was offset by trade surpluses of EUR 253 003 million for machinery and transport equipment, and EUR 112 112 million for chemicals and related products.

Data sources and availability

Statistics on the international trade of goods measure the value and quantity of goods traded between Member States of the EU (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 Member States, international trade flows are generally presented in terms of world trade flows (including both intra-EU and extra-EU partners).

Definitions for extra-EU trade flows are as follows:

  • 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 Member States (intra-EU trade) cover the 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/enter.


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 159 countries (as of March 2013), 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