3.3.1. Trade in goods

In 2017 and 2018, the Basque Country reported greater growth in the value of exports, due in part to the petroleum refining industry

Graph 6 shows the trend in Basque exports, in comparison with other territories. Here we can see that the effects of the crisis were overcome beginning in 2009, such that by 2011 Basque exports had returned to pre-crisis levels. Throughout the period, Basque exports followed a similar trend to that of the other territories considered, but they grew more slowly than those of the rest for the period as a whole. However, as was the case in 2017, in 2018 that the Basque Country saw the highest growth in export value (6.8%). This is partially due to the higher growth seen in exports of the oil refining sector within total Basque exports for 2017 and 2018.

Graph 6. Variation in export value, valued in euros (2007 = 100)
Graph 6. Variation in export value, valued in euros (2007 = 100)
Source: Unctad and Eustat (Basque Statistics Office).

The number of Basque exporters declined in 2018, but the number of regular exporters and the average value of exports per firm increased

Analysis of Table 6 allows us to consider the performance of Basque exporters in comparison with those in Spain. In 2018 we see a change in the trend of increases in the number of exporters in recent years, falling 1.5% in comparison with 2017. With regard to that year, this drop constitutes a smaller proportion of Basque exporters out of total Spanish exporters (7.8%) and out of all Basque firms with employees (21.4%). However, it should be noted that the percentage of Basque firms as a whole represented by Basque exporters is greater than that of Spanish exporters in relation to Spanish firms as a whole (21.4% compared to 13.7%).

What is more, despite a drop in the Basque export base, the value of the region’s exports was higher in 2018 than in the previous year (topping 25 billion euros), as was the average value of exports per firm, which in contrast, decreased in Spain. Another positive element is that the percentage of regular exporters (that is, those that have exported over the last four successive years) was up 3.6% in the last year, thus returning to the growth trend which commenced in 2012 and which was cut short in 2017. In the case of Spain, however, this declined.

The Basque Country shows a greater concentration of business exports than Spain as a whole

In both territories, firms exporting less than €50,000 account for 81% of all exporters (Basque and Spanish) and just 0.2% of export value. In terms of cumulative export percentage, however, there are significant differences. While in the Basque Country, the top 25 firms by export volume represent 45% of exports and the top 1,000 account for 97%, in Spain the top 25 account for 24% and the top 1,000, 68%. This highlights the higher level of corporate concentration among exporters in the Basque Country.

Table 6. Profile of Basque exporters compared to Spanish
Table 6. Profile of Basque exporters compared to Spanish
Source: ICEX (Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade) and INE (Spanish National Statistics Institute). Compiled by authors.

In order to try to make a more detailed estimate of certain aspects of the major exporters in the Basque Country, we have taken the 25 largest by export volume according to the SABI database. It should be pointed out that this selection of firms does not coincide with that mentioned above in Table 6 which is taken from the ICEX (Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade). Thus, in the case of SABI, the exports of firms operating in the Basque Country (and which therefore export from the Basque Country) but headquartered elsewhere, are not counted (the case of firms such as Mercedes and Michelin). By contrast, the exports of Basque firms made from their plants situated outside this autonomous community are credited to the Basque Country. Furthermore, it is possible that some Basque firms are not included in SABI (for example, cooperatives) or they do not appear as exporters because their export figures are not known.

Taking these elements into account, the territorial analysis of the 25 Basque firms with the highest volume of exports presented in Appendix 1 shows that the majority of them are located in Bizkaia (60%). In the group of Basque exporters contained in SABI, this location also dominates, but by less than 50%. Therefore, territorial concentration increases as we consider firms with higher levels of exports. In terms of jobs, we also find certain particular features among the leading exporters. They are mainly large firms with 500 or more employees (SMEs represent 32%), while the largest firms only represent 4% of total Basque exporters, compared to 92% by SMEs. The economic activities of the 25 largest exporters in the Basque Country are concentrated in metallurgy and motor vehicle manufacturing, and they all have a volume of exports in excess of 160 million euros (20% of them over €500 million). Exports as a percentage of average sales are close to 72% for these large exporters, whereas they represent less than 42% for all other firms.