China was the largest exporter in the world in 2020. In 2021, China was the largest partner for EU imports of goods (22.4 %) followed by the United States (11.0 %), Russia (7.5 %), the United Kingdom (6.9 %). The Covid-19 crisis caused both exports and imports between the EU and China to fall in 2020, but EU-China trade recovered rapidly. Imports of Chinese goods into the EU were also boosted by strong demand for medical equipment. In 2021, the value of Chinese exports to the EU reached 473 billion euros, more than double that of 2008, up 30% compared to 2019. Imports of Chinese products accounted for 3.3% of EU GDP.
In 2021, EU imports of manufactured goods (98 %) had a higher share than primary goods (2 %). The most imported manufactured goods were machinery & vehicles (56 %), followed by other manufactured goods (35 %) and chemicals (7 %). The three largest importers from China in the EU were the Netherlands (110.8 billion euros), Germany (98.1 billion) and France (40.8 billion). Notably, imports of Chinese goods accounted for 12.9% of Dutch GDP (up from 10.9% in 2019). Chinese imports as a percentage of GDP were also high in Slovenia (11.2% of GDP), the Czech Republic (7.8%), Hungary (6.4%), and as in Poland (5.4%). In all Member States (except Luxembourg), in 2021 imports from China were higher than in 2019, both in value and as a percentage of GDP.
China is an important trade partner of Greece in terms of imports: it is the third largest partner for imports of goods after Germany and Italy. In recent decades, China’s exports to Greece have increased significantly, from 523 million euros in 1999 to 5 billion euros in 2021. They also increased as a percentage of GDP (from 2.2% of GDP in 2019 to 2.8% in 2021). According to data from Harvard University’s Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), the main products China exported to Greece in 2020 were computers ($595 million), semiconductor devices ($223 million), and passenger and cargo ships ($193 million).
In recent years, the EU’s trade deficit with China has been increasing: it reached €249 billion in 2021, up from €129 billion in 2011. In 2021, the EU had trade surpluses in food & drink (€ 10.4 billion), raw materials (€ 7.3 billion), other goods (€ 1.9 billion) and energy (€ 0.4 billion). The EU had trade deficits in chemicals (€ 1.6 billion), other manufactured goods (€ 120.0 billion) and machinery & vehicles (€ 147.3 billion). In 2021 only three out of the twenty-seven member states had a trade surplus with China: Germany, Ireland, and Finland.
It is worth noting that China currently enjoys a quasi-monopoly position on rare earths and permanent magnets with 19 out of the 30 most critical raw materials imported primarily from there, while their prices have increased by 50-90% in the past year alone. As the President of the European Commission pointed out: «Lithium and rare earths will soon be more important than oil and gas. Our demand for rare earths alone will increase fivefold by 2030. […] We must avoid becoming dependent again, as we did with oil and gas.”