New historic record: Catalonia’s exports exceed €65 bn for first time

Trade deficit also grew due to economic recovery fueling imports

In 2016 Catalan businesses set a new export record for the seventh consecutive year. This is according to data published on Monday by the Ministry of Economy, which showed that Catalonia exported more than 65 billion euros for the first time. To be exact, 65.142 billion, or 2% more than in 2015. The Generalitat noted that this increase is higher than the Eurozone average (+0.7%) and industrial powers such as Germany (+1.2%) or Italy (+1.1%).

To Joan Aregio, Secretary for Business and Competitiveness, these figures are "the result of perseverance, insistence, and continuing efforts by the Catalan business community, one of the most internationalized in our area".

However, not everyone is as optimistic when it comes to analyzing the data. The Association of Exporting Industrial Companies (AMEC) warned yesterday that the pace of export growth is slowing, a fact that they view "with concern". The data support this idea: if exports grew in 2016 by 2%, the previous year they had done so by 6% -- more than triple. During the export boom of recent years there have been setbacks, such as what happened between 2012 and 2013, when foreign sales grew by only 0.2%. All things considered, however, sales recovered and thrived once again.

Nevertheless, AMEC believes that this time it could be different. Why? Because of the restrictive trade policies that are beginning to take effect in the US since Donald Trump was elected president, which has already meant the withdrawal of that country from the free trade agreement with Pacific countries and the freezing of trade agreements with Europe. The new protectionist attitudes, therefore, could end up harming the growing Catalan export sector, concludes AMEC.

More trade deficit

One piece of bad news contained in the data is that, while exports have grown so has the trade deficit (that is, Catalonia imported more than it exported). Specifically, last year Catalonia imported products and services valued at 77.8 billion euros, some 2.4% more.
This means that by the end of 2016 Catalonia had imported goods worth nearly €12.7 million more than it had exported, a figure that represents an increase of 4% over 2015. In other words, the trade deficit was the largest since 2011.

The association AMEC views slowing pace of exports "with concern"

While the growth of exports has been steady since 2009, imports have also been growing strongly in recent years, coinciding with the Catalan economic recovery that can be seen in the rise in consumer spending. This fact makes it difficult to reduce the trade deficit that has typified Catalonia historically.

As usual, too, Catalonia was the Spanish region with the highest exports, as more than a quarter of all foreign sales (25.6%) were made by Catalan companies. In second place was Valencia (11.3%) and in third was Madrid (11.1%). The two combined, however, exported less than Catalonia did.

By province, companies in Barcelona accounted for almost 80% of the export activity, while Tarragona was second, Girona third, and Lleida fourth. Tarragona was the only province to show a decline from the previous year, a 1.5% drop.

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