The African continent’s southernmost country, the Republic of South Africa shipped US$86.1 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2020. That dollar amount reflects a 12.4% gain since 2016 but a -4.8% decline from 2019 to 2020.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2020, the South African rand depreciated by -11.9% against the US dollar since 2016 and declined by -13.9% from 2019 to 2020. 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 60.8% of products exported from South Africa were bought by importers in: China (11.4% of the global total), United States (8.3%), Germany (8.2%), United Kingdom (4.9%), Japan (4.4%), Netherlands (3.8%), Botswana (3.8%), India (3.8%), Mozambique (3.6%), Namibia (3.1%), Belgium (2.8%) and Zimbabwe (2.6%).
From a continental perspective, about 33.8% of South African exports by value were delivered to importers in Asia while 28.6% were sold to European countries. South Africa shipped another 25.2% worth of its goods to fellow African nations. Smaller percentages arrived in North America (9.7%), Oceania (1.1%) led by Australia, and Latin America (0.9%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean.
Given South Africa’s population of 59.7 million people, it’s total $86.1 billion in 2020 exports translates to roughly $1,450 for every resident in the relatively wealthy African nation.
South Africa’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in South African global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from South Africa.
- Gems, precious metals: US$20 billion (23.3% of total exports)
- Ores, slag, ash: $12.8 billion (14.9%)
- Vehicles: $8.5 billion (9.8%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $6.9 billion (8%)
- Machinery including computers: $5 billion (5.8%)
- Iron, steel: $4 billion (4.6%)
- Fruits, nuts: $3.8 billion (4.4%)
- Aluminum: $1.6 billion (1.9%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $1.5 billion (1.8%)
- Other chemical goods: $1.5 billion (1.8%)
South Africa’s top 10 exports accounted for over three-quarters (76.2%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Gems and precious metals was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 30.4% year over year since 2019 led by greater international sales of platinum and gold. In second place for improving export sales was miscellaneous chemical goods which was up by 29.3%. South Africa’s shipments of fruits and nuts posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 9.8% year over year.
The leading decliner among South Africa’s top 10 export categories were its exported vehicles via a -26.2% drop.
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 2020. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2019.
In macroeconomic terms, South Africa’s total exported goods represent 12.1% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($710.8 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 12.1% for exports to overall GDP per PPP in 2020 compares to 11.2% one year earlier, seeming to indicate an increasing 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 unemployment rate was 30.8% at September 2020, up from an average 27.855% in 2020 according to the International Monetary Fund.