The EU’s trading partners: US, China and the rest

Malmstrom 2019 trade

Statement of Cecilia Malmström, Member of the EC, on engaging trade negotiations with the United States (European Union, 2019)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Charlotte Edmond, Formative Content

One-third of all EU trade last year was with the US and China. Combined, EU countries conducted €674 bn ($750 bn) worth of trade with the US in 2018. Import and export deals with China totalled €605 bn ($673 bn). That’s 17.1% and 15.4% respectively of all trading done with countries outside the EU – far ahead of Switzerland (6.7%), Russia (6.4%), Turkey (3.9%) or Japan (3.4%).

Image: European Commission

The US and China have been key trading partners of the EU for some years, although their relative contributions to the European coffers have shifted over time. In 2000, the US accounted for almost one-quarter of all extra-EU trading, falling to 14% in 2011. Meanwhile, China’s share of EU trading has almost tripled since 2000, when it stood at just over 5%. Russia and Japan, by contrast, have seen transactions with the EU decline in recent years.

Goods out

Image: European Commission

On an individual basis, most EU countries’ main export trading partner was another EU country. The exceptions to this were Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom (which primarily exported to the US), Cyprus (which sent goods to the Cayman Islands) and Lithuania (where Russia was the primary export destination).

The main recipient of exported goods within the EU was Germany, which accounted for over one-quarter of all exports for some countries, including Czechia, Austria and Poland.

The 28 member states exported a total of €5474 bn ($6089 bn) worth of goods, 64% (€3518 bn or $3914bn) of which was trading with another member state. The biggest intra-EU traders were Slovakia, Czechia and Luxembourg. In contrast, Cyprus and the UK were the only countries to export more outside the EU than within it.

Goods in

Image: European Commission


Imports were also primarily conducted within the trading block itself, with the exception of Lithuania and the Netherlands, which partnered with Russia and China respectively.

The main origin of goods imported into the EU from outside the member states was China (20%), followed by the US (13%) and Russia (8%). A total of €5426 bn ($6036 bn) of goods was imported by the EU, of which €3446 bn ($3834 bn or 64%) came from another EU member state.

The Netherlands was the only country where less than half of its imports came from within the EU. This is due to trade flows being skewed by goods bound for other EU countries arriving in Dutch ports and being recorded as extra-EU imports. These goods are then re-exported within the EU, affecting intra-EU flows from the Netherlands.

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