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Transitaire CERL

On February 5, the Customs published the annual results of France’s foreign trade for the year 2020. France’s trade deficit thus reached 65.2 billion euros in 2020 due in particular to the pandemic and its consequences. A deterioration of 8 billion compared to the previous year, a significant drop but not exceeding the historical record of the crisis of 2012.

The crisis has highlighted the extreme specialization of the French export sector and its great fragility during periods of crisis. But in a context of a general decline in world trade, there are grounds for optimism following the recovery movement undertaken in the spring with the France Relaunch plan.

Note: our file concerning the import and export of goods in France is updated every year. Do not hesitate to consult our most recent article on the situation of imports and exports in France in 2022 – 2023.

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Falling trade balance

Exports of goods are down 15.9 percent compared to 2019, a decline similar to that observed during the financial crisis of 2009, while imports declined by only 13 percent. Two sectors of activity have mainly plummeted the accounts this year: the aeronautics and automobile sector and imports of masks. The trade balance thus deteriorated by 7.3 billion euros compared to 2019.

The customs balance sheet indicates that aircraft and engine deliveries have declined by 45.5% in 2020. Imports of protective masks also weighed heavily in the balance, to the tune of 5.9 billion euros.

Exports of pharmaceutical products, on the other hand, rose by 4.7%. Agricultural exports also held up better with a decline of only 3%.

Reasons for optimism

First of all, according to Guillaume Vanderheyden, the deputy director of customs, “on export markets, France remains very competitive in the food industry” and, with the aeronautics and automotive industries, “these are the three major sectors that are bringing hope at the moment“. In addition, the 15.9% drop in exports of goods does not reflect the resumption of exports begun in early spring after the first containment. After a historic decline in trade of -43.9% in the first half of 2020, they have thus resumed an uninterrupted upward trend since May. Although the number of exporting companies declined during the year, it stabilized at 128,000 by December.

This recovery is mainly due to a better resistance of exports to European Union countries. Exports to third countries fell by only 13%, while exports to third countries fell by 19.3%, mainly due to the integration of European value chains into the European internal market. Export sales also resumed early and dynamically to China (up 20.4% between the first and second half of the year).

Key figures for French foreign trade in 2020

  • France is the world’s 6th largest exporter of goods and services
  • 128 323 French exporting companies
  • Exports of goods in 2020: €428.1 billion (down 15.9% compared to 2019)
  • Imports of goods: €493 billion (down 13% compared to 2019)
  • Trade deficit in goods: €65.2 Billion
  • France’s main customers: Germany (€60.8 billion), Italy (€32.3 billion), United States (€32.3 billion), Spain (€30.9 billion)
  • France’s main suppliers: Germany (€71.7 billion), China (€56.6 billion), Italy (€39.2 billion), Spain (€35.4 billion)
  • Sectoral surpluses: Aerospace (€16.5 billion), Chemicals, Perfumes, Cosmetics (€12.9 billion), Food (€6.0 billion), Pharmaceuticals (€5 billion)
  • Sectoral deficits: Capital goods (€33.2 billion), Energy (€25.7 billion), Textiles and clothing (€15.4 billion), Automotive (€15.0 billion)
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