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Who’s Who in the International Hemp Zoo?

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

26 December 2022 at 09:00:00

According to the UNCTAD’s Global Hemp Report 2022, hemp export and import trends have shifted dramatically over the last few years, with the US and Europe displacing China as the world’s biggest hemp exporters.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), France is the biggest exporter of hemp in the world, accounting for 23,7% of the market. At number two is China (19,5%), followed by the United States (11,5%). UNCTAD’s Global Hemp Report 2022 says there are now 77 hemp importing countries in the world, up from 50 just a few years ago.


The increase in both the number of exporting and importing countries observed between 2018 and 2019 may be the consequence of more permissive laws passed in Canada and the United States in 2018.


On aggregate, world imports of hemp products, amounted to about $42 million in 2020, which is about twice as much as their value in 2018.


In volume terms, the increase observed between 2018 and 2020 was close to 40 per cent.

In 2020, the total volume of hemp imports was about 32,300 tons. In terms of both value and volume, the increase recorded between 2018 and 2020 is extraordinary, especially considering that 2020 was strongly negatively affected by the coronavirus pandemic.


The boost created by changes in regulations in North America are likely to explain most of this strong rise, even though the absolute amount remains relatively small.


Less than two years after the re-legalization of industrial hemp, the United States became its third largest exporter, in value, behind France (ranked number 1 in both value and volume over the past two decades) and China.


On the import side, the three largest markets in 2020 were Spain, Switzerland and the United States. Countries such as Nigeria, the Republic of Korea and Turkey featured at least once among the top five importers in either value or volume between 2002 and 2020.


Between 2011 and 2019 China displaced European Union countries as the largest exporter of hemp products. However, it now appears that the pendulum is swinging back in the other direction with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)’s Global Hemp Report 2022, revealing the following countries as the world’s main hemp exporters by percentage of market share (2020):

France: 23,7%

China:  19,5%

US 11,5%

Romania: 9,2%

Netherlands:  9%

Italy 6,3%

Germany 6,2%

Belgium 2,5%

Lithuania: 2,3%

Others: 9,8%


In terms of imports, these countries are the world’s top hemp importers by market share percentage (2020):

Spain 21%

Switzerland 15,5%

US 9,4%

Germany 9%

Netherlands 8,9%

Czechnia 8,6%

Poland  7,6%

India 6,3%

Italy 5,2%

Korea Republic 4,5%

Japan 4%


The major product, in value terms, was semi-processed hemp, especially in 2019 and 2020.

In 2020, imports of semi-processed hemp (HS 5302.90) accounted for more than 50 per cent of total hemp imports. The other two products, namely raw or retted hemp (HS 5302.10) and hemp yarn (HS 5308.20), amounted to one fourth of total hemp imports each.


Semi-processed hemp also dominated by way of volume. In 2020 slightly more than 23,000 tons were traded. The second most traded product was raw or retted hemp with about 8,000 tons traded in 2020. Only 1,100 tons of hemp yarn were traded that same year.


Regarding trade, in value terms, between regions and in some major single markets, intra-European Union trade constituted the bulk of international trade in raw or retted, and and semi-processed hemp.

Trade flows among its 27 Member States represented 27 per cent of world trade in raw or retted hemp in 2002. If European Union trade with other European and Central Asian countries is included, the total share increases to 79 per cent. Moreover, the intra-European Union trade share in total trade increased to 85 per cent in 2019.


For semi-processed hemp, intra-European Union trade accounted for 66 per cent and 69 per cent of total trade in 2002 and 2019 respectively.


Trends are more nuanced for hemp yarn. While the intra- European Union trade share in total trade increased from 23 per cent to 33 per cent between 2002 and 2011, it fell to 12 per cent in 2019. Exports from China to the European Union market increased significantly in absolute terms between 2011 and 2019 despite a relatively moderate increase in relative terms.


China became the main exporter of hemp yarn during the 2011–2019 period, clearly displacing European Union exports. China’s exports were more than half of total exports in 2019, compared with one third for European Union exports.


China’s main destination markets are in Eastern and Southern Asia. The United States was the largest destination market for European Union exports in 2019, surpassing intra-European Union trade.


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