Before 1990, foreign trade was a state monopoly carried out through export-import agencies under the administration of the Ministry of Foreign Trade. Since World War II, the orientation and structure of Romanian foreign trade have shifted. Before the war, cereals, oil, timber, livestock, and animal derivatives accounted for over 90% of total exports, while consumer goods (60%) and raw materials (20%) accounted for the bulk of the imports. Under the Communist industrialization program, structural changes were particularly striking in exports, with machinery and non-edible consumer goods emerging as important export items. Foreign trade was in surplus throughout the 1980s, but fell into deficit in the 1990s. Romania's increasing trade deficit after 1994 was due in large part to the depreciation of its currency, large energy imports (despite large domestic reserves), and the loss of two important expert markets due to international sanctions: Iraq and the former Yugoslavia (now Serbia and Montenegro. The low quality of Romania's export products has also contributed to its large trade deficits. Additionally, with 80% of all imports taking the form of raw materials—principally oil, natural gas, and minerals—the country has little foreign exchange for the importation of equipment and technology of the type needed to modernize its sluggish industrial sector.
Exports in 2000 totaled $10.4 billion and imports $13.1 billion. In 2000, the major export categories were apparel (22%); machinery and electric equipment (19%); metals and their manufactures (17%); mineral fuels (7.2%); chemicals and related exports (5.8%); and food products, beverages, and tobacco (2.6%). In 2000, imports were distributed among the following categories:
Trade with the EU countries, especially Germany, has increased substantially in recent years, largely because of Romania's expanding need for advanced Western technology and equipment.
Principal trade partners in 2000 (in millions of dollars) were as follows: