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EU imports and exports of goods are balanced, kind of

Staff writer |
In monetary terms EU imports and exports of goods are more or less balanced. From a physical perspective however the EU’s trade pattern with the rest of the world is quite different.

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At 3.2 tonnes per capita on average per year, imports of goods are about three times the size of exports, which account for about 1 tonne per capita on average per year from 2000 to 2014.

Between 2000 and 2008, both physical imports and exports increased by 23.2% and 33.4%, respectively. However, the economic crisis had different effects on trade: in the period 2008-14, imports decreased to the 2002-03 level, while exports continued strongly increasing, except for a short decrease between 2008 and 2009.

The physical trade balance (physical imports minus exports) follows the trend of imports. Indeed, the physical trade balance is not so much affected by the increase of exports despite the ratio between imports and exports has changed from about 3.5 in the pre-crisis years to 2.4 in 2014.

A closer look at the traded goods in a breakdown by four main material categories (original data are available in a more detailed breakdown by around 50 material categories) reveals a clear asymmetry between physical imports and exports in 2014 and these proportions among material categories can be generally considered to hold true over the whole period.

Imports of fossil energy materials — around 2.0 tonnes per capita — are 5 times higher than their exports.

At around 0.4 tonnes per capita metal ores are the second most imported product group, followed by biomass at 0.35 tonnes per capita. Metal ores also account for the second largest trade balance (imports minus exports), while trade in biomass is more balanced.

Figure 4 shows the physical trade balance (weight of imported goods minus exported goods) for all EU Member States.

The majority of EU Member States import more than they export (i.e. net importers); excluding Luxembourg, outlier with a balance of 17.2 tonnes per capita, there are three EU Member States with high net imports, between 4.3 and 8.6 tonnes per capita: Ireland, Belgium and Malta.

Main net exporting countries are Latvia (wood), Estonia (wood, fossil energy materials) and Sweden (metal ores).


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