Foreign trade

Catalan exports reach all-time high despite pandemic: €80.538m

Foreign trade is rebuilt after the covid shock and already grows 9% above 2019 data

3 min
Many exports are made in containers through the port of Barcelona.

BarcelonaBefore the shock of covid, Catalan exports had a strong momentum, with a decade of breaking historical records. After a tough first year pandemic for foreign trade, in which foreign sales fell by 10%, they are now once again at record highs. In 2021, Catalan exports achieved the unprecedented figure in the historical series (dating back to 1993) of €80,538m, 21% more than the previous year and 9% more than in 2019. Catalonia was by far the autonomous community in Spain which exported the most –the second was Madrid with €39,866m, practically half– and accounted for 25% in the state total, according to data published on Thursday by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism.

"We continue to be the economic engine of southern Europe and we have demonstrated the robustness of our business fabric," the Minister of Enterprise and Labor, Roger Torrent, celebrated during his assessment of the data. In November his department had already predicted that Catalonia would end the year with a record, but the estimate of €78,000m has ended up falling short. In fact, this rebound in foreign sales of Catalan companies has occurred despite the problems caused to the industry by bottlenecks in supply chains and rising prices in raw materials and energy. "They are questions of a conjunctural character, that obviously have an impact and we will see how they evolve, but the companies have been resilient in complicated moments", Torrent has emphasised.

The main forces behind this increase were the chemical industry, capital goods and agriculture. All Catalan provinces closed the year with better results than in 2019, although Lleida registered the biggest rise (17% more than two years ago). Torrent also claimed that the growth of the Catalan foreign sector was higher than that of the Eurozone as a whole (17%) and than countries such as France (15%) or Germany (almost 14%). As for imports, they have not yet recovered the pre-covid volume and stood at €90,428m, so that Catalonia recorded a trade deficit of €9,890m, 5% lower than last year.

Among the Government's measures to continue setting export records beyond 2021, Torrent recalled the launch of the ACCIÓ procurement and logistics project and the €100m approved for loans to ensure that Catalan SMEs do not run out of working capital. "If we have done this without the tools of a state, imagine what we could do if we had this capacity," said the minister. In addition, he added that massive injections of public resources such as the European Next Generation funds will also help to strengthen the internationalisation of the economy. He also admitted that they are facing a "paradigm shift" that will also force many companies to rethink sustainability and digitisation.

Spain exceeds €300bn

The upward trend in exports is not exclusive to Catalonia. In Spain as a whole, a new historical record was also broken and exports exceeded €300bn mark, a milestone that did not prevent the trade deficit (€26.2bn) from doubling in comparison with 2020. This is due to the increase in the cost of buying energy from other countries. Spanish exports rebounded by 21% to €316.6bn and were 9% above the 2019 figure. Even so, the rise in imports was even higher, at 24%, which placed them at €342.8bn.

This significant rise in both cases contrasts with the drops in previous years, when sales to other countries fell by 10% and purchases abroad fell by 14.7%. The Secretary of State for Trade, Xiana Méndez, has pointed out that despite having increased significantly, Spain's trade deficit in 2021 is the second smallest in the last five years. In addition, with a view to this year, she has advanced that the positive trend in exports is expected to continue –although in smaller magnitudes– thanks to the easing of bottlenecks. However, she acknowledged that energy prices and the lack of semiconductors will continue to be relevant "risks".

Rising energy prices weigh on cement exports

Cement consumption in the first month of 2022 has increased by 8% compared to the same period last year, up to 160,237 tons. On the other hand, the cumulative of the last 12 months (2 million tons) is close to the volume (not even 3% less) recorded between January 2019 and 2020, before the covid crisis. According to data from the employer Catalan Cement, production reached 251,035 tons in January, 15% more than in 2021, and exports rose 9% to 156,759 tons in January, but have fallen more than 10% in the last 12 months due to the increase in the cost of energy. The entity has also highlighted the increase in costs in recent months, which it explains by three factors: the rise in the cost of electricity, the escalation in the price of emission rights of CO2 and the additional greenhouse emissions tax that the government wants to implement .