In 2021, extra-EU trade rebounded strongly, following declines in exports and imports caused by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Imports climbed by 23% last year, while exports increased by 13%. Last year, imports rose by 23%, while exports increased by 13%.
Looking back a decade, the rate of export growth peaked in 2011 (+13%) and stayed positive until 2016, when it fell (-0.5%), followed by a 7 per cent rebound in 2017. The export growth rate remained positive for the next two years but dropped dramatically in 2020 (-9%) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Eurostat, the import growth rate peaked in 2011 (+13%), followed by slight variations between 2012 and 2015, before growing significantly in 2017 (+11%) and 2018 (+8%), and closing the decade with a steep fall (-12%) in 2020.
The EU trade in goods balance in 2021 was €68 billion in surplus, the lowest surplus since 2011 when the trade balance was €42 billion in deficit. This trend was partly fueled by a sharp increase in the value of energy imports at the close of 2021, which resulted in rising trade deficits in November and December. The trade balance has been in excess since 2011, peaking at €264 billion in 2016. The surplus fell to €222 billion in 2017 and €148 billion in 2018, then rose again to €191 billion in 2019 and €216 billion in 2020.
Although the share of intra-EU and extra-EU flows in overall trade in goods varied significantly across EU Member States, data suggest that the EU’s internal market takes centre stage in the Member States’ trade of goods, reflecting, to some extent, historical links and geographical position.
Among the EU Member States, the highest shares of intra-EU trade in 2021 for both exports and imports were recorded in Luxembourg (81% and 89%, respectively). On the other hand, Ireland was the EU Member State with the lowest shares of intra-EU trade for both exports and imports (38% for both), which is not surprising as its first trade partner is the United Kingdom.
The Netherlands imported a large share of goods from third countries and exported them inside the EU in 2021. Cyprus, on the other hand, imported a considerable number of items from EU member states, with the majority of them being exported outside the EU.