Understanding what are the best products to export from South Africa in 2020.
The African continent’s southernmost country, the Republic of South Africa shipped US$90.2 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects a 12.4% gain since 2015 but a -4.4% decline from 2018 to 2019.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2019, the South African rand depreciated by -13.2% against the US dollar since 2015 and declined by -9.2% from 2018 to 2019. South Africa’s weaker local currency makes its exports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively less expensive for international buyers.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 61.7% of products exported from South Africa were bought by importers in: China (10.7% of the global total), Germany (8.3%), United States (7%), United Kingdom (5.2%), Japan (4.8%), India (4.6%), Botswana (4.5%), Mozambique (4.1%), Namibia (4%), Netherlands (3.2%), Belgium (3%) and Zambia (2.3%).
From a continental perspective, 31.3% of South African exports by value were delivered to importers in Asia while 26.7% were sold to fellow African countries. South Africa shipped another 26.1% worth of its goods to Europe. Smaller percentages arrived in North America (7.5%), Oceania (1%) led by Australia, and Latin America (also 1%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean.
Given South Africa’s population of 55.4 million people, its total $94.4 billion in 2019 exports translates to roughly $1,500 for every resident in the relatively wealthy African nation.
South Africa’s Top 10 Exports
- Top 10
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in South African global shipments during 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from South Africa.
- Gems, precious metals: US$15.3 billion (17% of total exports)
- Ores, slag, ash: $13.1 billion (14.5%)
- Vehicles: $11.4 billion (12.7%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $9.1 billion (10.1%)
- Machinery including computers: $5.5 billion (6.1%)
- Iron, steel: $5.4 billion (6%)
- Fruits, nuts: $3.4 billion (3.8%)
- Aluminum: $1.8 billion (2%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $1.7 billion (1.9%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $1.4 billion (1.6%)
South Africa’s top 10 exports accounted for about three-quarters (75.6%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Ores, slag and ash was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 11.1% since 2018. In second place for improving export sales was vehicles thanks to a 5.6% gain. South Africa’s shipments of plastics including articles made from plastic posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 0.01%.
The leading decliner among South Africa’s top 10 export categories was iron and steel which fell -14.8% year over year.
Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more granular view of exported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the section Searchable List of South Africa’s Most Valuable Export Products further down near the bottom of this article.
Searchable List of South Africa’s Most Valuable Export Products
The following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from South Africa during 2019. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2018.
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$72.6 billion or 80.5% by value for all products exported from South Africa during 2019.
In macroeconomic terms, South Africa’s total exported goods represent 11.2% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($809 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 11.2% for exports to overall GDP per PPP in 2019 compares to 12% one year earlier, seeming to indicate a slightly decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for South Africa’s total economic performance.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. South Africa’s average unemployment rate was 27.855% for 2019 compared to 27.125% in 2018, according to the International Monetary Fund.
See also South Africa’s Top 10 Imports, Top South African Trading Partners and Top African Export Countries
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