The EU is the world’s most powerful trade entity, collectively responsible for approaching a third (30.2%) of all globally exported goods valued at $18.734 trillion in 2020.
The EU’s $5.293 trillion in export sales during 2020 reflects a 9.5% increase since 2016 but a -6.3% drop from 2019 to 2020.
The top 5 goods exported from the 27 EU countries were cars, medication mixes in dosage, automobile parts or accessories, blood fractions including antisera, and processed petroleum oils. In aggregate, those 5 exported products account for almost one-fifth (18.8%) of overall EU exports in 2020.
The metrics presented in this article focus exclusively on exports from the 27 countries that were EU members at the end of 2020. Please note that the United Kingdom formally exited from the EU on January 31, 2020.
From a continental perspective, almost three-quarters (72.4%) of EU exports by value were delivered to European countries compared to 59.1% that was sold to fellow EU members. The EU shipped another 13.7% worth of goods to Asia plus 8.9% to North America.
Smaller percentages went to Africa (2.7%), Latin America (1.4%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean, and Oceania (0.8%) led by Australia and New Zealand.
Given the European Union’s population of 513.1 billion people, its total $5.293 trillion in 2020 exports translates to roughly $10,315 in international trade revenue 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.
Please note that metrics for the United Kingdom are reported in a separate article specific to the UK.
European Union’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in EU global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from the EU.
- Machinery including computers: US$724.7 billion (13.7% of total exports)
- Vehicles: $600.7 billion (11.3%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $524 billion (9.9%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $422.5 billion (8%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $220.9 billion (4.2%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $204.1 billion (3.9%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $184 billion (3.5%)
- Organic chemicals: $143.2 billion (2.7%)
- Iron, steel: $111.8 billion (2.1%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $111.2 billion (2.1%)
The EU’s top 10 exports accounted for 61.3% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Pharmaceuticals represent the sole growth commodity class among the top 10 export categories, up by 12.4% from 2019 to 2020.
Leading the decliners were mineral fuels including oil (down -32.9%), iron and steel (down -15.5%) and EU’s exported vehicles (down -12.1%).
Overall the EU achieved a $300.4 billion surplus in its global trade for 2020. That dollar amount represents a 10.4% increase from $272.2 billion in black ink for 2019. However, the surplus amount in 2020 has declined by -11.1% over the 5-year period starting in 2016.
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$132.5 billion (Up by 11.3% since 2019)
- Machinery including computers: $123.3 billion (Down by -20.2%)
- Vehicles: $114.2 billion (Down by -1.5%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $38.9 billion (Down by -19.8%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $25.9 billion (Down by -7.9%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: $24.3 billion (Down by -7.9%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $20.2 billion (Up by 5%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $19.3 billion (Down by -49.9%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $18.2 billion (Down by -12.4%)
- Meat: $17.5 billion (Up by 23.4%)
The has highly positive net exports in the international trade of pharmaceuticals and related products. In turn, these cashflows indicate the UK’s strong competitive advantages under the pharmaceuticals category.
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$194.8 billion (Down by -36.5% from 2019)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$58.6 billion (Up by 17.5%)
- Miscellaneous textiles, worn clothing: -$27 billion (Up by 390.3%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$21.2 billion (Down by -11.8%)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$20 billion (Down by -2.7%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$18.5 billion (Up by 4.2%)
- Fruits, nuts: -$16.2 billion (Up by 12.2%)
- Fish: -$15.1 billion (Down by -10.9%)
- Oil seeds: -$9.2 billion (Up by 13%)
- Toys, games: -$8.8 billion (Down by -10%)
The EU has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the mineral fuels category particular for crude oil and, to a lesser extent, petroleum gases and coal.
EU Export Companies
Ranking among the top 100 listed under Forbes Global 2000 are about 20 corporations with headquarters located in the EU.
Below are selected examples of top EU companies engaged in exports-related activities.
- Royal Dutch Shell (oil, gas)
- Volkswagen Group (automobiles)
- Total (oil, gas)
- Daimler (automobiles)
- BMW Group (automobiles)
- Anheuser-Busch InBev (beverages)
- Siemens (industrial/technology conglomerate)
- Enel (electricity, gas)
- BASF (diversified chemicals)
Headquarters for the European Union are located in Belgium’s capital city, Brussels.
EU Top 100 Most Valuable Exported Products
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, cars represent the EU’s most valuable exported product. In second place were medication mixes in dosage followed by refined petroleum oils, automobile parts and accessories, blood fractions including antisera then mobile phones.
The following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from European Union members during 2020. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2019.
|Rank||EU Export Product||2020 Value (US$)||2019-20|
|2||Medication mixes in dosage||$254,686,726,000||+10.5%|
|4||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$141,736,782,000||+18.2%|
|5||Processed petroleum oils||$117,673,773,000||-36.3%|
|6||Phone system devices||$82,235,268,000||+2.5%|
|7||Computers, optical readers||$70,390,134,000||+5.4%|
|8||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$55,440,932,000||-0.6%|
|12||Heterocyclics, nucleic acids||$37,611,199,000||-6.5%|
|14||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$35,643,919,000||-6.7%|
|17||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$35,079,499,000||-4.8%|
|19||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$32,134,050,000||-0.6%|
|20||Miscellaneous plastic items||$30,772,694,000||-1.9%|
|21||Electrical converters/power units||$30,232,701,000||+5.2%|
|23||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$28,727,794,000||-4.4%|
|24||Liquid pumps and elevators||$28,086,265,000||-7.1%|
|25||Air or vacuum pumps||$26,798,550,000||-7.3%|
|26||Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)||$26,606,588,000||-9.7%|
|28||Rubber tires (new)||$25,439,372,000||-9.5%|
|29||Transmission shafts, gears, clutches||$24,866,270,000||-8.8%|
|32||Piston engine parts||$24,154,552,000||-15.4%|
|34||Cases, handbags, wallets||$23,622,495,000||-15%|
|39||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$22,594,067,000||-6.9%|
|40||Electric storage batteries||$21,705,967,000||+38.5%|
|41||Miscellaneous iron and steel structures||$21,617,187,000||-3.2%|
|42||Miscellaneous iron or steel items||$21,431,995,000||-8.5%|
|43||Dishwashing, clean/dry/fill machines||$21,349,832,000||-2.6%|
|44||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$21,054,385,000||-2.8%|
|47||Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries||$20,749,218,000||+1.2%|
|48||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$20,738,320,000||-0.9%|
|49||Electric motors, generators||$19,544,441,000||-7.1%|
|50||Miscellaneous animal feed preparations||$19,471,064,000||+12.6%|
|51||Machinery for making semi-conductors||$19,138,914,000||+7.8%|
|52||Chocolate, other cocoa preparations||$18,860,337,000||+0.7%|
|53||Other food preparations||$18,628,777,000||+5.8%|
|56||Electric water heaters, hair dryers||$18,151,959,000||+5.3%|
|58||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$17,801,418,000||-0.4%|
|60||Other organic cleaning preparations||$17,323,909,000||+3.3%|
|61||Other diagnostic/lab reagents||$17,291,344,000||+27.2%|
|62||Women's clothing (not knit or crochet)||$17,186,751,000||-9.8%|
|65||Chemical industry products/residuals||$16,366,634,000||-3%|
|69||Scents used for beverage or industrial manufacturing||$15,674,291,000||+2.6%|
|70||Other measuring/testing machines||$15,654,368,000||-9.4%|
|72||Electric circuit parts, fuses, switches||$14,520,659,000||-4%|
|76||Jerseys, pullovers (knit or crochet)||$14,404,219,000||-5%|
|77||Flat-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products (plated/coated)||$14,400,290,000||-15.6%|
|79||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$14,180,384,000||-0.6%|
|81||Iron or steel scrap||$14,072,457,000||-4.2%|
|84||Electrical lighting/signaling equpment, defrosters||$13,634,887,000||-11.1%|
|85||Flour/meal/starch/malt extract food preparations||$13,405,042,000||+1.4%|
|86||Iron and steel screws, bolts, nuts, washers||$13,203,009,000||-9.1%|
|87||Cruise/cargo ships, barges||$13,172,460,000||-13.3%|
|90||Plastic tubes, pipes, fittings||$13,027,189,000||-0.5%|
|91||Computer parts, accessories||$12,951,983,000||-2.4%|
|92||Base metal mountings, fittings||$12,901,500,000||-5.8%|
|94||Ball, roller bearings||$12,603,638,000||-11.6%|
|95||Lamps, lighting, illuminated signs||$12,536,375,000||-9.1%|
|96||Flat-rolled stainless steel items||$12,410,754,000||-12.1%|
|97||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$12,403,432,000||-3.6%|
|98||Hot-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products||$12,385,345,000||-22.6%|
|99||Models, puzzles, miscellaneous toys||$12,385,066,000||+5.4%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of $3.115 trillion or almost three-fifths (58%) by value for all products exported from the EU during 2020.
See also Top EU Export Countries, Top EU Import Countries and United Kingdom’s Top 10 Exports
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