Based on the average exchange rate for 2020, Italy uses the euro which appreciated by 3.1% against the US dollar since 2016 and increased by 2% from 2019 to 2020. The stronger EU currency made Italy’s exports paid for in weaker US dollars relatively more expensive for international buyers.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 64.5% of products exported from Italy were bought by importers in: Germany (12.8% of the global total), France (10.3%), United States (9.8%), Switzerland (5.8%), United Kingdom (5.2%), Spain (4.7%), Belgium (3.4%), Poland (3%), China (also 3%), Netherlands (2.6%), Austria (2.1%) and Turkey (1.8%).
From a continental perspective, roughly two-thirds of Italy’s exports by value were delivered to fellow European countries while 15.3% were sold to importers in Asia. Italy shipped another 11.5% worth of goods to North America. Smaller percentages went to Africa (3.5%), Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (2%) then Oceania led by Australia and New Zealand (1%).
Given Italy’s population of 60.5 million people, its total $496.1 billion in 2020 exports translates to roughly $8,200 for every resident in the south European nation.
Italy’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Italian global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Italy.
- Machinery including computers: US$91.1 billion (18.4% of total exports)
- Vehicles: $38.3 billion (7.7%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $35.9 billion (7.2%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $30.8 billion (6.2%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $20.3 billion (4.1%)
- Gems, precious metals: $17.6 billion (3.5%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $16.5 billion (3.3%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefabricated buildings: $12.6 billion (2.5%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $12 billion (2.4%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $11.7 billion (2.4%)
Italy’s top 10 exports accounted for 57.8% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Powered by stronger revenues from exported gold and platinum, gems and precious metals was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories thanks to its 13.8% increase from 2019 to 2020. The only other year-over-year gain for export sales was pharmaceuticals up 6.8%.
The leading decliner among Italy’s top 10 export categories was unknitted and non-crocheted clothing or accessories dropping -14.8% year over year.
Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more granular view of exported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the section Searchable List of Italy’s Most Valuable Export Products below.
Overall Italy posted a trade surplus in 2020 amounting to $73.2 billion, up by 23.9% from the $59.1 billion in black ink one year earlier.
The following types of Italian 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 reflect 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.
- Machinery including computers: US$47.8 billion (Down by -12.7% since 2019)
- Articles of iron or steel: $11 billion (Down by -5.9%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefabricated buildings: $9.1 billion (Down by -7.4%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $8.8 billion (Up by 1.6%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $7.4 billion (Up by 17.1%)
- Leather/animal gut articles: $6.3 billion (Down by -23.1%)
- Cereal/milk preparations: $5.1 billion (Up by 18.9%)
- Ships, boats: $5 billion (Up by 52.9%)
- Footwear: $4.7 billion (Down by -11.9%)
- Ceramic products: $4.4 billion (Up by 4.1%)
Italy has highly positive net exports in the international trade of machinery–a product category that includes computers. In turn, these cashflows indicate Italy’s strong competitive advantages in producing machinery for international markets.
Below are exports from Italy that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Italy’s goods trail Italian importer spending on foreign products.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$24.8 billion (Down by -42.5% since 2019)
- Organic chemicals: -$8.8 billion (Up by 5.8%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$5 billion (Up by 10.3%)
- Fish: -$4.1 billion (Down by -13.2%)
- Iron, steel: -$3.8 billion (Down by -37.6%)
- Miscellaneous textiles, worn clothing: -$3.6 billion (Up by 635.8%)
- Cereals: -$2.8 billion (Up by 1.3%)
- Copper: -$2.4 billion (Down by -12.9%)
- Meat: -$2.4 billion (Down by -16.5%)
- Wood: -$1.9 billion (Down by -14%)
Italy has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for mineral fuels-related products notably crude oil, petroleum gas, electrical energy, coal and peat.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Italy’s competitive disadvantages in the international energy market, but also represent key opportunities for Italy to improve its position in the global economy through focused innovations especially in cleaner alternative energy sources.
Italian Export Companies
Thirty corporations rank among Forbes Global 2000. Below is a sample of the major Italian companies that Forbes included.
- Eni (oil, gas)
- Finmeccanica (aerospace)
- Parmalat (food processing)
- Pirelli & C (automotive parts)
- Prada (clothing, accessories)
- Prysmian (electrical equipment)
- Saras (oil, gas)
- Telecom Italia (telecommunications services)
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following smaller companies are also examples of Italian exporters.
- Acciaierie Valbruna (stainless steel bars, rods, doors, window frames)
- Chateau D AX (wood seats, chemicals)
- Emilceramica (ceramic tiles, building tiles)
Searchable List of Italy’s Most Valuable Export Products
The following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from Italy during 2020. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2019.
|Rank||Italy's Export Product||2020 Value (US$)||Change|
|1||Medication mixes in dosage||$26,749,671,000||+10.9%|
|4||Processed petroleum oils||$8,255,053,000||-40.6%|
|5||Cases, handbags, wallets||$8,106,427,000||-21.4%|
|6||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$7,860,600,000||-6.4%|
|7||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$7,463,069,000||-7.6%|
|12||Dishwashing, clean/dry/fill machines||$6,418,252,000||-4%|
|15||Unglazed ceramic flags, tiles, cubes||$4,382,270,000||+0.02%|
|16||Liquid pumps and elevators||$4,085,204,000||-3.5%|
|20||Air or vacuum pumps||$3,616,139,000||-5.6%|
|21||Phone system devices||$3,591,085,000||+15.3%|
|25||Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)||$3,287,083,000||-8.7%|
|26||Miscellaneous iron or steel items||$3,247,124,000||-12.2%|
|27||Women's clothing (not knit or crochet)||$3,191,050,000||-6.3%|
|28||Transmission shafts, gears, clutches||$3,158,438,000||-8%|
|29||Miscellaneous iron or steel tubes, pipes||$3,155,684,000||-12.3%|
|31||Miscellaneous plastic items||$3,049,370,000||-5.3%|
|32||Jerseys, pullovers (knit or crochet)||$3,027,999,000||-11.4%|
|34||Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries||$2,748,061,000||+5.2%|
|35||Electric water heaters, hair dryers||$2,678,691,000||+4.9%|
|36||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$2,652,495,000||-3.3%|
|38||Cruise/cargo ships, barges||$2,634,115,000||+26.1%|
|39||Electrical converters/power units||$2,585,700,000||-0.2%|
|40||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$2,554,678,000||-4.6%|
|41||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$2,474,397,000||-2.6%|
|42||Yachts, other pleasure/sports vessels||$2,414,087,000||-5.6%|
|43||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$2,260,546,000||-3.8%|
|47||Other animal leather||$2,126,407,000||-21%|
|48||Chocolate, other cocoa preparations||$2,111,942,000||+0.6%|
|49||Rubber/plastic article making machines||$2,111,236,000||-9.4%|
|50||Piston engine parts||$2,099,305,000||-14.8%|
|51||Industrial preparation machinery||$1,961,606,000||-3.3%|
|52||Men's suits, trousers (not knit or crochet)||$1,935,689,000||-16.2%|
|54||Electric motors, generators||$1,898,197,000||-16.5%|
|55||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$1,877,920,000||-1.4%|
|56||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$1,837,611,000||-0.3%|
|57||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$1,826,313,000||-18.7%|
|59||Computers, optical readers||$1,759,060,000||-4.9%|
|64||T-shirts, vests (knit or crochet)||$1,707,534,000||-3.6%|
|65||Iron and steel screws, bolts, nuts, washers||$1,706,309,000||-10.8%|
|66||Plastic tubes, pipes, fittings||$1,700,433,000||+3%|
|68||Lamps, lighting, illuminated signs||$1,632,768,000||-14.1%|
|71||Iron or steel pipe fittings||$1,595,252,000||-9.7%|
|72||Other organic cleaning preparations||$1,593,426,000||-0.6%|
|73||Spray/dispersing mechanical appliances||$1,585,156,000||+6.8%|
|74||Women's coats, jackets (not knit or crochet)||$1,537,783,000||-14.5%|
|75||Miscellaneous iron and steel structures||$1,529,466,000||-4.2%|
|76||Flat-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products (plated/coated)||$1,513,339,000||-18.9%|
|77||Heterocyclics, nucleic acids||$1,474,104,000||+11.3%|
|78||Base metal mountings, fittings||$1,460,076,000||-5.8%|
|79||Miscellaneous aluminum items||$1,450,330,000||-9.1%|
|80||Rubber tires (new)||$1,428,343,000||-10.5%|
|81||Men's coats, jackets (not knit or crochet)||$1,401,019,000||-10.4%|
|82||Other food preparations||$1,397,139,000||-0.4%|
|83||Flat-rolled stainless steel items||$1,369,263,000||-13.6%|
|84||Other measuring/testing machines||$1,359,431,000||-3.5%|
|85||Monument/building stones, art||$1,348,050,000||-9.2%|
|88||Paper containers, cellulose wadding||$1,286,345,000||-3.3%|
|89||Other machine parts, accessories||$1,278,246,000||-20.8%|
|90||Sauces, mixed condiments or seasonings||$1,266,639,000||+28.5%|
|94||Alcohol (including spirits, liqueurs)||$1,220,102,000||-11.8%|
|96||Footwear (rubber or plastic)||$1,203,362,000||+0.7%|
|98||Ball, roller bearings||$1,191,017,000||-19.8%|
|99||Vulcanized rubber items||$1,169,656,000||-1.4%|
|100||Initiators/accelerators, catalytic preps||$1,155,905,000||+38.7%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$307.1 billion or over three-fifths (61.9%) by value for all products exported from Italy during 2020.
In macroeconomic terms, Italy’s total exported goods represent 20.5% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($2.415 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 20.5% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2020 compares to 21.8% one year earlier. This seems to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Italy’s total economic performance albeit based on a short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Italy’s average unemployment rate was 9% in December 2020, down from 10.625% in 2018 according to the International Monetary Fund.
Italy’s capital city is Rome.
See also Italy’s Top Trading Partners, Italy’s Top 10 Major Export Companies and Italy’s Top 10 Imports
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Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on March 29, 2021
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on March 29, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on March 29, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on March 29, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 29, 2021
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on June 28, 2020
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Italy. Accessed on March 29, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on June 28, 2020
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on March 29, 2021