September 24, 2021

The European Union’s agri-food exports and imports grew last year despite the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a new report, the 27-member bloc announced that despite being an “exceptionally challenging” year, 2020 saw the total value of agri-food exports and imports reach €306 billion.

Agri-food exports increased by 1.4% compared to 2019, reaching €184 billion, while agri-food imports rose 0.5% to €122 billion, according to the 35-page report, Agri-food trade in 2020.

In a statement released by the European Commission, Janusz Wojciechowski, the commissioner for agriculture, said that promoting open and fair trade “greatly benefits our farmers” and was “a political priority for the European Commission”.

“The success of agricultural trade is clearly linked to the Common Agricultural Policy, which supports competitiveness and innovation, and also to the excellent reputation of our products as being safe, sustainably produced, nutritious and of high quality,” said Wojciechowski.

The latest figures mean that the EU remains the largest exporter of agri-food products in the world, while it is now the third-largest importer, behind only the United States and China.

Janusz Wojciechowski, the European Commissioner for agriculture

In its statement, the commission said international trade had been “crucial” in mitigating the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Multiple free-trade agreements have helped the bloc to maintain its central role in world trade, according to the commission.

The increase in EU agri-food exports was largely the result of strong sales of wheat and pork, according to the commission.

Oilseeds, fatty acids and waxes, palm oil, fruit and soya beans were the biggest contributor to the EU’s growth in agri-food imports.

“The EU exports a wide range of products from all parts of the value chain, which demonstrates the competitiveness of the EU agri-food sector in a variety of product classes, ranging from commodities to highly processed food industry products,” the commission statement said.

“EU imports, on the other hand, are clearly dominated by basic agricultural food and feed products, which represent about 75% of all imports.”


The EU’s biggest trading partner in agri-food exports and imports was the United Kingdom, taking 23% of the bloc’s exports and accounting for 13% of its imports.

After formally leaving the EU on 31 January last year, the UK’s trade with the bloc continued unchanged until the end of the year as part of what was known as the transition period.

Any effects of Brexit on the EU were therefore unlikely to have been felt last year, so 2021 may offer a better indication of how Britain’s departure may affect cross-channel agri-food exports and imports.

While the UK remains the EU’s biggest trading partner for agri-food products, it was among three nations – the others being the US and Ukraine – from which EU imports declined the most.

The commission said that for agri-food exports, the major growth destinations were China, Switzerland and the Middle East and North Africa. The biggest falls in exports were seen with the United States, Turkey, Singapore and Japan.

“Wheat continued to be the leading EU export product to Africa with a 23% share of the EU’s total export basket, whereas cocoa beans dominate in the EU imports from Africa, with the same share of 23%,” the report stated.

While total agri-food imports to the EU increased slightly last year, Sial Paris Newsroom recently reported that there was a slight decline in organic imports.

The European Commission said in a briefing paper that organic agri-food imports to the block totalled 2.79 million tonnes last year, which was a decline of 1.9% of 2019’s figure of 2.85 million tonnes.

Organic commodities accounted for the decline, the briefing paper said, because processed products, fish and other organic produce were stable or increased.

Almost half of the EU’s organic agri-food imports were accounted for by fruit and vegetables, the briefing paper said, with bananas making up more than four-fifths of tropical fruit imports.

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