Featuring 28 members prior to the United Kingdom’s planned exit on March 29, 2019, the European Union (EU) shipped US$5.719 trillion worth of goods around the globe in 2017. Pre-Brexit the EU is the world’s most powerful trade partner, responsible for almost a third (32.5%) of globally exported goods valued at $17,581 trillion.
The EU’s $5.886 trillion in export sales during 2017 reflects a -3.9% decline since 2013 but a 9.6% year-over-year uptick from 2016 to 2017.
Based on estimates from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, the EU’s exported goods plus services represent 43.9% of total EU economic output or Gross Domestic Product. Please note that the overall value of exported goods and services includes a sizable share of re-exports. The analysis below focuses on exported products only.
From a continental perspective, 69.7% of EU exports by value were delivered to European countries while 62.6% were sold to fellow EU member importers. The EU shipped another 14.7% worth of goods to Asia plus 8.8% to North America. Smaller percentages arrived in Africa (2.9%), Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (1.6%) and Oceania (0.8%) led by Australia.
Given the European Union’s population of 516.2 million people, its total $5.719 trillion in 2017 exports translates to roughly $11,100 for every resident in that economic entity.
The EU’s average unemployment rate was 6.7% as of October 2018 per Trading Economics.
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in EU global shipments during 2017. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from the EU.
- Machinery including computers: US$801.2 billion (14% of total exports)
- Vehicles: $714.8 billion (12.5%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $519.8 billion (9.1%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $344.3 billion (6%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $270.6 billion (4.7%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $238.2 billion (4.2%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $214.4 billion (3.7%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $141.8 billion (2.5%)
- Organic chemicals: $141 billion (2.5%)
- Iron, steel: $141 billion (2.5%)
The EU’s top 10 exports accounted for 61.7% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Iron and steel was the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up by 25.4% year over year since 2016.
In second place for improving export sales was mineral fuels including oil which rose 25.2% led by both processed and crude oils as well as petroleum gases.
Pharmaceuticals posted the third-fastest gain in value via its 10.2% increase in value.
The sole decliner among the top 10 EU export categories was aircraft and spacecraft which fell by -1.7%.
Overall the EU achieved a $77.9 billion product trade surplus for 2017 down by -28.1% from 2016 to 2017 and retreating by -49.8% over the 5-year period starting in 2013.
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.
- Machinery including computers: US$127.9 billion (Up by 4.9% since 2016)
- Vehicles: $122.3 billion (Up by 2.2%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $89 billion (Up by 23.4%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $45 billion (Up by 33.2%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $44.8 billion (Up by 28.8%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $28.2 billion (Up by 13.7%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: $21.9 billion (Up by 9.1%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $15.7 billion (Down by -5.3%)
- Other chemical goods: $15.4 billion (Down by -3%)
- Paper, paper items: $14.6 billion (Up by 6.9%)
The EU has highly positive net exports in the international trade of machinery-related products. In turn, these cashflows indicate the UK’s strong competitive advantages under the machinery including computers product 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: -$291 billion (Up by 30.2% from 2016)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$69.7 billion (Up by 26.5%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$32.8 billion (Down by -0.5%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$24.2 billion (Down by -2.8%)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$21.3 billion (Up by 33.2%)
- Fruits, nuts: -$19.6 billion (Up by 8.7%)
- Fish: -$17.4 billion (Up by 5.2%)
- Gems, precious metals: -$15.4 billion (Down by -60.8%)
- Organic chemicals: -$13.6 billion (Up by 527.5%)
- Toys, games: -$13.5 billion (Up by 14.4%)
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
Twenty-three corporations with headquarters located in the EU rank among the top 100 listed under Forbes Global 2000 for 2017.
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)
- BP (oil, gas)
- BMW Group (automobiles)
- Anheuser-Busch InBev (beverages)
- Siemens (industrial/technology conglomerate)
- Enel (electricity, gas)
- BASF (diversified chemicals)
EU 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 automobile parts and accessories, processed petroleum oils and mobile phones.