The EU is the world’s most powerful trade entity, collectively responsible for 29.9% of the world’s exported goods valued at $21.513 trillion in 2021. The EU’s percentage share for 2021 reflects a modest decline from 30.3% of the global total in 2020.
The EU’s international sales of exported products increased by 21.7% from a total $5.298 trillion 5 years earlier in 2017. Year over year, the EU collected 21.4% more in revenues from exports of $5.305 trillion during 2020.
Comparing changes over time, the EU’s $5.293 trillion in export sales during 2021 reflects a 9.5% increase since 2017 but a -6.3% drop from 2020 to 2021.
In 2021, the top 5 goods exported from the 27-member EU were cars, medication mixes in dosage, blood fractions including antisera, processed petroleum oils, and automobile parts or accessories. In aggregate, those 5 exported products approach one-fifth (18.5%) of the overall value for EU exports.
Please note that the metrics presented in this article focus exclusively on exports from the 27 countries that were EU members at the end of 2021. The United Kingdom formally exited from the EU on January 31, 2020.
European Union’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in EU global shipments during 2021. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from the EU.
- Machinery including computers: US$837.6 billion (13% of total exports)
- Vehicles: $686 billion (10.6%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $614.9 billion (9.5%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $496.9 billion (7.7%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $329.7 billion (5.1%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $293 billion (4.5%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $237.6 billion (3.7%)
- Iron, steel: $179 billion (2.8%)
- Organic chemicals: $164.6 billion (2.6%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $137.8 billion (2.1%)
By value, the EU’s top 10 exports accounted for 61.7% of global shipments.
Mineral fuels including oil represents the fastest-growing product class among the top 10 export categories, up by 77.9% from 2020 to 2021. That increase was propelled largely by higher sales of refined petroleum oils and petroleum gas from the EU.
In second place were EU exports of iron and steel via a 60.1% gain, ahead of the 32.7% uptick for exported plastics and items made from plastic and the 17.2% increase for the EU’s exported pharmaceuticals.
Trade Surpluses for the European Union by Major Products
The EU achieved an overall $128.7 billion surplus in its global trade for 2021. That dollar balance results from a -55.6% drop from $289.6 billion in black ink for 2020.
The following types of EU product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports.
In a nutshell, net exports represent the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.
- Pharmaceuticals: US$152.4 billion (Up by 14.8% since 2020)
- Vehicles: $127.3 billion (Up by 13.6%)
- Machinery including computers: $126 billion (Up by 3.5%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $46.6 billion (Up by 21.5%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $33.3 billion (Up by 27.4%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: $25.4 billion (Up by 25.3%)
- Paper, paper items: $21 billion (Up by 20.7%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $21 billion (Up by 5.7%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $20.3 billion (Up by 6.5%)
- Meat: $18.9 billion (Up by 7%)
The has highly positive net exports in the international trade of pharmaceuticals and related products. In turn, these cashflows indicate the EU’s strong competitive advantages under the pharmaceuticals category.
Trade Deficits for the European Union by Major Products
Below are exports from the EU that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on EU-exported goods trail the European Union’s spending on imported products.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$348.4 billion (Up by 80.5% from 2020)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$93.1 billion (Up by 57%)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$32.5 billion (Up by 62.3%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$24.7 billion (Up by 16.9%)
- Organic chemicals: -$23.6 billion (Up by 186.5%)
- Fish: -$17.6 billion (Up by 16.6%)
- Fruits, nuts: -$15.8 billion (Down by -2.2%)
- Iron, steel: -$15.8 billion (Up by 478.9%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$15.6 billion (Down by -16.2%)
- Toys, games: -$14.8 billion (Up by 66.6%)
The EU has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the mineral fuels category particular for crude oil and, to a lesser extent, petroleum gases and coal.
Major EU Export Companies
Ranking among the top 100 listed under Forbes Global 2000 are about 20 corporations with headquarters located in the EU.
Below are selected examples of top EU companies engaged in exports-related activities.
- Anheuser-Busch InBev (beverages)
- BASF (diversified chemicals)
- BMW Group (automobiles)
- Daimler (automobiles)
- Enel (electricity, gas)
- Royal Dutch Shell (oil, gas)
- Siemens (industrial/technology conglomerate)
- Total (oil, gas)
- Volkswagen Group (automobiles)
EU Top 100 Most Valuable Exported Products
The following searchable database displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from European Union members during 2021. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2020.
|Rank||EU Export Product||Value (US$)||2020-1|
|2||Medication mixes in dosage||$261,946,385,000||+2.3%|
|3||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$208,979,246,000||+46.8%|
|4||Processed petroleum oils||$187,253,609,000||+58.2%|
|6||Phone devices including smartphones||$85,687,454,000||+3.5%|
|7||Computers, optical readers||$77,671,399,000||+9.6%|
|8||Electro-medical equipment (e.g. xrays)||$64,623,461,000||+16.4%|
|14||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$42,605,952,000||+21.1%|
|15||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$42,259,728,000||+18.3%|
|18||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$37,912,188,000||+17.3%|
|19||Miscellaneous plastic items||$37,209,711,000||+20%|
|22||Electrical converters/power units||$35,955,627,000||+17.8%|
|23||Heterocyclics, nucleic acids||$35,939,329,000||-4.4%|
|26||Liquid pumps and elevators||$32,148,590,000||+14.7%|
|27||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$32,112,276,000||+11.4%|
|28||Electric storage batteries||$31,991,628,000||+46.5%|
|29||Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)||$31,505,636,000||+18.4%|
|30||Rubber tires (new)||$30,624,148,000||+20%|
|31||Air or vacuum pumps||$30,622,972,000||+13.8%|
|33||Cases, handbags, wallets||$29,498,265,000||+24.5%|
|34||Transmission shafts, gears, clutches||$29,236,731,000||+17.4%|
|36||Piston engine parts||$28,399,104,000||+17.7%|
|39||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$26,761,279,000||+17.8%|
|40||Miscellaneous iron and steel structures||$26,742,312,000||+23.1%|
|41||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$26,733,708,000||+26.7%|
|42||Miscellaneous iron or steel items||$26,438,544,000||+22.8%|
|46||Iron or steel scrap||$25,248,612,000||+77.9%|
|47||Machinery for making semi-conductors||$25,141,828,000||+30.7%|
|49||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$24,535,999,000||+17.6%|
|50||Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries||$24,433,247,000||+17%|
|52||Dishwashing, clean/dry/fill machines||$23,366,519,000||+9%|
|54||Miscellaneous animal feed preparations||$23,197,587,000||+18%|
|55||Electric motors, generators||$23,062,831,000||+16.9%|
|56||Electric water heaters, hair dryers||$22,430,122,000||+22.4%|
|58||Other food preparations||$22,125,164,000||+17.2%|
|59||Hot-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products||$22,110,825,000||+78.3%|
|60||Chocolate, other cocoa preparations||$21,586,070,000||+14.1%|
|61||Flat-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products (plated/coated)||$21,573,324,000||+49.5%|
|62||Other diagnostic/lab reagents||$21,301,021,000||+22.6%|
|63||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$21,011,210,000||+17.7%|
|65||Women's clothing (not knit or crochet)||$20,762,768,000||+20.3%|
|71||Chemical industry products/residuals||$20,214,697,000||+23%|
|72||Coal tar oils (high temperature distillation)||$19,671,239,000||+94.3%|
|73||Other organic cleaning preparations||$19,340,603,000||+11.2%|
|76||Other measuring/testing machines||$18,579,628,000||+17.5%|
|78||Flat-rolled stainless steel items||$18,317,477,000||+47.2%|
|79||Jerseys, pullovers (knit or crochet)||$18,280,580,000||+25.7%|
|81||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$18,148,575,000||+27.4%|
|82||Cruise/cargo ships, barges||$17,418,949,000||+29.7%|
|83||Electric circuit parts, fuses, switches||$17,217,750,000||+18.2%|
|87||Aluminum plates, sheets, strips||$16,346,533,000||+38.7%|
|88||Base metal mountings, fittings||$16,206,530,000||+24.7%|
|89||Iron and steel screws, bolts, nuts, washers||$16,088,932,000||+21.4%|
|90||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$15,917,583,000||+27.6%|
|91||Plastic tubes, pipes, fittings||$15,688,557,000||+20%|
|92||Flat-rolled other alloy steel products||$15,615,220,000||+48.6%|
|93||Alcohol (including spirits, liqueurs)||$15,566,975,000||+29.9%|
|95||Heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators)||$15,369,455,000||+29.5%|
|97||Electrical lighting/signaling equpment, defrosters||$15,356,494,000||+12.5%|
|99||Lamps, lighting, illuminated signs||$15,178,449,000||+19.7%|
|100||Computer parts, accessories||$15,047,406,000||+15.2%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of $3.722 trillion or almost three-fifths (57.8%) by value for all products exported from the EU during 2021.
Expanding the scope to the 100 most valuable exported products, the fastest-growing exports from the EU are electrical energy (up 177.2% from 2020), petroleum gases (up 120.5%), high-temperature distilled coal tar oils (up 94.3%), hot-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products (up 78.3%), iron or steel scrap (up 77.9%), biodiesel (up 63.1%), sawn wood (up 61.2%) and refined petroleum oils (up 58.2%).
Other Key Facts About the EU and its Exports
From a continental perspective, almost three-quarters (72.8%) of EU exports by value were delivered to European countries.
EU countries bought 61.2% of the total value for EU exported goods in 2021 from fellow EU members.
The EU shipped another 13.4% worth of goods to Asia plus 8.8% to North America.
Smaller percentages went to Africa (2.7%), Latin America (1.6%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean, and Oceania (0.8%) led by Australia and New Zealand.
Given the European Union’s population of 447 million people, its total $6.442 trillion in 2021 exports translates to roughly $14,400 in international trade product sales for every EU resident.
The EU’s average unemployment rate was 7.3% at April 2021, up from 6.6% one year earlier per Trading Economics.
Headquarters for the European Union are located in Belgium’s capital city, Brussels.
Please note that metrics for the United Kingdom are reported in our separate article specific to UK exports.
See also Top EU Export Countries, Top EU Import Countries, Germany’s Top 10 Exports, France’s Top 10 Exports and Italy’s Top 10 Exports
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International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on June 10, 2022
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on June 10, 2022
Wikipedia, Demographics of the European Union. Accessed on June 10, 2022
Wikipedia, European Union. Accessed on June 10, 2022
Wikipedia, List of Companies of the European Union. Accessed on June 10, 2022
Wikipedia, List of European countries by population. Accessed on June 10, 2022
Wikipedia, Member State of the European Union. Accessed on June 10, 2022
World’s Capital Cities, Capital Facts for Brussels, Belgium. Accessed on June 10, 2022