International trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products
From Statistics Explained
- Data from October 2014. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
The European Union (EU-28) was by far the major world trader in medicinal and pharmaceutical products (SITC division 54) in 2013, with total trade amounting to EUR 171.1 billion. Exports made up about two thirds of this trade. The United States occupied the second position for trade in these products, at some distance, with trade worth EUR 83.9 billion.
Over the period 2003-2013, the United States was the main trading partner for extra-EU exports of these products. Both export and import trade increased more than 50% over the period and, in 2013, the USA accounted for 30 % of all extra-EU trade.
The United States and Switzerland were the main trading partners for imports over the period 2003-2013, but with imports from Switzerland growing at a faster pace. In 2013, these two partners accounted for about three quarters of all extra-EU imports in these products.
- 1 Main statistical findings
- 2 Data sources and availability
- 3 Context
- 4 See also
- 5 Further Eurostat information
- 6 External links
- 7 Notes
Main statistical findings
An increasing trade surplus
In 2013, following the general trend of EU trade in goods, extra-EU exports in medicinal and pharmaceutical products grew slightly (+1 %) in comparison with 2012, while imports showed a relatively small reduction (-2 %). As a result, the EU reached its largest surplus of EUR 55.6 billion.
The total value of extra-EU trade in these products more than doubled over the period 2003- 2013 from EUR 75.6 billion in 2003 to EUR 171.1 billion in 2013.
Trade was dominated by exports, which were about the double of the value of imports for every year from 2003 to 2013. The EU trade surplus in this category grew constantly from EUR 23.3 billion in 2003 to EUR 55.6 billion in 2013.
United States and Switzerland remain the top EU partners
The United States stands out as the EU’s main trading partner every year over the period 2003-2013. Both imports from and exports to the United States showed a reduction in 2013, after having reached their peak in 2012. The fall in exports (-9 %) was larger than in imports (-4 %), and their level dropped below the value registered in 2010.
Switzerland was the second largest EU export partner in 2013, albeit at less than half of the level of exports to the United States.
In 2013, EU exports of medicines (SITC 542), including veterinary medicines, amounted to EUR 81.2 billion and accounted for 72 % of all EU exports of medicinal and pharmaceutical products. This was made up by a wide variety of medicaments. Exports of medicinal and pharmaceutical products other than medicaments (SITC 541) amounted to EUR 32.1 billion; the largest single product group was antisera, blood fractions, modified immunological products and vaccines (SITC 54163), with 17 % of total exports.
The United States and Switzerland were the largest EU trade partners also on the import side, together accounting for 73 % of the imports of these products in 2013. EU imports from Switzerland rose by 142 % over the period from 2003 to 2013; the largest increase was however registered by Singapore, which has become in recent years the third biggest supplier of the EU.
With 54 %, medicines made up a larger share of imports than other medicinal and pharmaceutical products. Among the latter category, the largest single product group was antisera, blood fractions, modified immunological products and vaccines, making up more than half of the imports of this category.
Distribution of trade by Member State
Amongst the EU Member States, the four largest exporters of medicinal and pharmaceutical products together accounted for 60 % of these exports in 2013. The leaders were Germany and Belgium who together accounted for 37 %, followed by France and United Kingdom, both accounting for a share of EU exports over 10 %.
The United States was the most important export partner for all of these four leading Member States in 2013; together, they accounted for about two thirds of all extra-EU exports of medicinal and pharmaceutical products to the United States.
For imports, the concentration of trade was similar. The five largest EU importers together accounted for 68 % of the extra-EU imports of these products in 2013. Belgium was the leading importer among the Member States, with a share of 21 %, followed by Germany (16 %). The other major importers, the Netherlands, Italy and the United Kingdom, all recorded shares of around 10%.
Switzerland was the most important import partner for Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, while the United States was the most important import partner for Belgium and the Netherlands.
Data sources and availability
EU data are compiled according to European Union's guidelines and may therefore differ from national data published by Member States (see International trade data - ESMS file).
Data source: Eurostat’s free dissemination database; for non EU-data (Figure 2) United Nations’ COMTRADE database. A code (such as ‘DS_018995’) is inserted as part of the source. This hyperlinked code allows the reader to easily access the most recent data on the Eurostat website. The data on the website is frequently updated and may also be more detailed or have a different measurement unit.
Division 54 'Medicinal and pharmaceutical products' of the Standard international trade classification revision 4 (SITC Rev. 4), is made up of the sub-groups:
- 5411 ‘Provitamins and vitamins (not put up as medicaments)’;
- 5413 ‘Antibiotics (not put up as medicaments)’;
- 5414 ‘Vegetable alkaloids (not put up as medicaments)’;
- 5415 ‘Hormones, prostaglandins, thromboxanes and leukotrienes’;
- 5416 ‘Glycosides; glands or other organs; antisera, vaccines;
- 5419 ‘Pharmaceutical goods, other than medicaments’;
- 5421 ‘Medicaments containing antibiotics’;
- 5422 ‘Medicaments containing hormones, etc., but not antibiotics’;
- 5423 ‘Medicaments containing alkaloids, but not containing hormones etc. or antibiotics’;
- 5429 ‘Medicaments not elsewhere specified’.
The "Rotterdam effect": Extra-EU imports of some Member States (e.g. Netherlands, Belgium), and therefore their trade deficit, are overvalued because of the so-called ‘Rotterdam effect’. Goods destined for the rest of the EU arrive in their ports and, according to EU rules, are declared as imports by the Member State where these goods are released for free circulation. This in turn reduces the extra-EU imports to those Member States to which the goods are re-exported, as these shipments are recorded, for EU statistics, as arrivals from the Member State where these goods are released for free circulation, rather than imports from an extra-EU partner.
Pharmaceutical products are among the most important products within the chemicals sector (SITC section 5). Besides machinery and vehicles, the chemicals sector is the product group where the EU traditionally posts a trade surplus. The surplus reached EUR 115.5 billion in 2013.
Today, the pharmaceutical sector is extensively regulated at EU level in the dual interest of ensuring the highest possible level of public health and patient confidence in safe, effective and high-quality medicinal products, while continuing to develop a single EU market for pharmaceuticals in order to strengthen the European pharmaceutical industry's competitiveness and research capability.
The most common trade impediments faced by pharmaceutical exporters are a range of burdensome and costly registration, licensing and certification procedures. The EU aims to redress these through its bilateral trade agreements or by tackling individual barriers as part of its market access partnership.
- Extra-EU trade in goods
- Extra-EU trade in manufactured goods
- Extra-euro area trade in goods
- International trade in goods
Further Eurostat information
- EU-27 trade in medicinal and pharmaceutical products rose by 11% in 2009 in spite of the global economic crisis - Statistics in focus 63/2010
- International trade, see:
- International trade detailed data (detail)
- EU trade since 1988 by SITC (DS_018995)
Methodology / Metadata
- International trade (ESMS file)
Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)
- European Commission - Enterprise and Industry - Pharmaceuticals in Europe: Facts and Figures
- United Nations Comtrade
- Belgian imports can be overestimated due to the so-called "Rotterdam effect" (See Data sources and availability for more details)