EU chemical and pharmaceutical trade: robust growth

April 26, 2023

In 2022, EU chemical (including pharmaceutical) extra-EU exports reached a record high of EUR 553 billion, fuelled by increasing prices. This was an increase of more than one-fifth (+21%) compared with the value of exports in 2021 (EUR 458 billion).

The value of chemical imports from non-EU countries into the EU was significantly lower, but also hit a record high of EUR 363 billion, an increase of almost a third (+33%) compared with 2021 (EUR 272 billion).

Top exporter: Germany

In 2022, among the EU members, the top 5 exporters were Germany (EUR 142 billion), Belgium (EUR 81 billion), Ireland (EUR 71 billion), France (EUR 53 billion) and the Netherlands (EUR 49 billion).

The main extra-EU destinations were the United States (EUR 147 billion), the United Kingdom (EUR 55 billion), Switzerland (EUR 52 billion), China (EUR 38 billion) and Japan (EUR 23 billion).

Regarding chemical imports, Germany was the largest importer from non-EU countries in 2022 (EUR 72 billion), followed by the Netherlands and Belgium (each EUR 53 billion), Italy (EUR 30 billion), Spain and France (each EUR 28 billion).

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Methodological notes: 

  • ‘Chemicals’ consist of SITC Rev. 4 ‘Chemicals and related products’:
    • 51 – Organic chemicals
    • 52 – Inorganic chemicals
    • 53 – Dyeing, tanning & colouring materials
    • 54 – Medical & pharmaceutical products
    • 55 – Essential oils, resinoids and perfume materials
    • 56 – Fertilisers (other than those of group 272)
    • 57 – Plastics in primary forms
    • 58 – Plastics in non-primary forms
    • 59 – Chemical materials and products
  • As of January 2021 onwards, data on trade with the United Kingdom is based on a mixed concept. As per the Withdrawal Agreement Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland, for trade with Northern Ireland, the statistical concepts applicable are the same as those for trade between the EU countries. On the other hand, for trade with the United Kingdom (excluding Northern Ireland), the same statistical concepts are applicable as for trade with any other extra-EU partner country. For these reasons, data on trade with the United Kingdom are not fully comparable.
  • Dutch trade flows are over-estimated because of the so-called ‘Rotterdam effect’ (or quasi-transit trade): that is goods bound for other EU countries arrive in Dutch ports and, according to EU rules, are recorded as extra-EU imports by the Netherlands (the country where goods are released for free circulation). This in turn increases the intra-EU flows from the Netherlands to those Member States to which the goods are re-exported. Although to a lesser extent, trade figures of other Member States like Belgium or Luxembourg may also be overestimated due to quasi-transit.