China overtakes US as largest EU trading partner in goods

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·2-min read
Flags of China and the European Union. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Flags of China and the European Union. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

China overtook the US as the EU's biggest trading partner in goods in 2020, according to new figures.

It comes as the EU and China seek to further build trade through an investment deal, and EU leaders hope for an easing in trade tensions with the US under new president Joe Biden. Global leaders from Group of Seven (G7) countries, which includes Germany, France, Italy and the US, are also set to meet virtually on Friday.

Data from the European Union's statistics body Eurostat shows a significant rise in trade with China and significant declines in US trade last year.

The latest data shows the EU's 27 member countries exported €202.5bn (£176bn, $245bn) of goods to China in 2020, up 2.2% on the previous year. EU imports from China also increased 5.6% to €383.5bn.

Meanwhile EU manufacturers and retailers still exported more to the US, but total imports and exports were lower than with China. European firms exported €353m of goods to the US, plummeting 8.2% amid the pandemic and higher tariff barriers.

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Imports from US companies were worth €202bn, down 13.2% year-on-year. It leaves the EU with a slightly narrower trade surplus of €150.9bn with the US, and a deepening trade deficit of €181m with China.

The EU and China reached an agreement in principle on a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) at the end of last year.

According to EU officials, the deal will mean greater-than-ever access to Chinese markets for EU investors. China is also said to have committed to a "better level playing field" for EU companies in terms of competition with state-owned rivals, subsidies and the prohibition of forced transfer of technologies.

Recent closely watched survey data shows strong growth in international trade this year for eurozone manufacturers, despite the pandemic's toll on the global economy.

IHS Markit's purchasing managers' index (PMI) came in at 54.8 in January, on a scale where figures over 50 show growth and below 50 show decline. Growth was among the strongest in Europe's biggest economy Germany, with companies "frequently commenting on higher demand from China and the US," according to the latest report for the country.

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