The revealed comparative advantage (RCA) indicator estimated by CEPII (Centre d'Études Prospectives et d'Informations Internationales, a Paris-based economics institute) underscores the similar specializations of the five main European Union (EU) exporters (France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, and Spain). All five countries studied specialize in mechanical products and/or vehicles and-apart from Italy-all are specialized in chemicals.

On aggregated data, Germany and Italy exhibit far more concentrated but also far greater RCAs in mechanical products than those of their chief EU competitors. Germany displays a stabler RCA composition over time than its competitors, particularly France.

France shares an RCA in the agrifoods sector with Spain. Excluding agrifoods and energy, however, the country whose sectoral structure of exports has converged most strongly with France in recent years appears to be the United Kingdom. Moreover, since 2004, France has lost its RCA in vehicles whereas Spain and Germany have succeeded in preserving and even increasing theirs.

Despite relatively similar specializations, the five leading EU economies post uneven export performances. Germany stands out as the exception, as its market shares in all specialization sectors distinctly exceed those of its neighbors and has been rising since the early 2000s. Only Spain has managed to preserve its market shares in the same period, while the other four countries have recorded losses.

An analysis by product range offers grounds for qualifying the export specializations of the five major EU countries. Both France and Germany specialize in high-value-added products, but France focuses on high-technology products (aerospace and pharmaceuticals) while Germany concentrates on medium-technology products (automobiles and machinery). France and the United Kingdom exhibit very similar specialization ranges. Italy and Spain, instead, have specialized in medium/low technology products.

Germany has chosen to favor medium-technology products, in which its RCA is the strongest. This strategy has enabled it to consolidate its international positions in the category. By contrast, France's resilience seems confined to high-technology products, a sector where it is protected by its RCAs in aerospace and pharmaceuticals.

Trésor-Economics No. 98