Freedom Day for South Africa falls on April 27, a public holiday when South Africans celebrate the first post-apartheid elections held on that day in 1994. Freedom Day is also a time to reflect on the international trade successes of Africa’s third-richest economy (behind Egypt and Nigeria) in terms of export sales.
Based on 2017 data, the most valuable South African export products include precious metals including platinum and gold as well as raw diamonds
Major base metal exports from South Africa are iron, manganese, chromium and aluminum.
South Africa earned a total $8.1 billion from its exports of cars and trucks. Among top energy exports, South Africa generates the most cash from coal-related products compared to its exports of refined petroleum.
South Africa also exports wine and fruits.
For the most recent four-digit HTS code data, please see the Searchable List of South Africa’s Most Valuable Exports Products section in the South Africa’s Top 10 Exports article. For a link to that article, see the See also paragraph above Research Sources below.
Most Valuable South African Export Products
Below are the 20 most valuable export products that South African exporters shipped in 2017. Shown within brackets is the percentage change in value for each item from 2009.
- Platinum (unwrought): US$6.6 billion (up 9.2% since 2016)
- Coal, solid fuels made from coal: $5.8 billion (up 50%)
- Cars: $5.7 billion (up 7.6%)
- Gold (unwrought): $5.2 billion (up 50.7%)
- Iron ores, concentrates: $4.6 billion (up 27.5%)
- Iron ferroalloys: $3.8 billion (up 7.6%)
- Trucks: $3 billion (up 8%)
- Manganese ores, concentrates: $2.6 billion (up 86.9%)
- Processed petroleum oils: $2.4 billion (up 18.4%)
- Chromium ores, concentrates: $2.2 billion (up 69.9%)
- Diamonds (unmounted/unset): $1.9 billion (down -3.3%)
- Centrifuges, filters and purifiers: $1.6 billion (down -2.9%)
- Fresh or dried citrus fruit: $1.4 billion (up 21.6%)
- Crude oil: $1.3 billion (up 924.8%)
- Aluminum (unwrought): $985.7 million (up 25.4%)
- Chemical woodpulp (dissolving): $781 million (up 7.1%)
- Flat-rolled stainless steel items: $751.7 million (up 20.9%)
- Wine: $717.9 million (up 8.5%)
- Automobile parts/accessories: $677.2 million (up 13.3%)
- Electrical energy: $645.7 million (down -7.1%)
Seventeen of the 20 most valuable South African export products posted a gain in value from 2016 to 2017. Exported crude oil from South Africa posted the strongest gain via a 924.8% improvement.
In second place was the manganese ores and concentrates subcategory, which improved by 86.9% year over year. Exported chromium appreciated by 69.9% while international sales of gold rose 50.7%.
Close behind was South African exports of coal including solid fuels made from oil via a 50% uptick.
Overall, South African exports swelled by 20.8% to $89.5 billion in 2017 compared to $74.1 billion during 2016.
See also South Africa’s Top 10 Exports, South Africa’s Top 10 Imports and Top South African Import Partners
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on February 9, 2017
The World Factbook, Field Listing: Exports and World Population, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on February 9, 2018
Trade Map, International Trade Centre, www.intracen.org/marketanalysis. Accessed on February 9, 2018