A landlocked nation in south-central Asia, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan shipped an estimated US$1.1 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2018. That dollar amount reflects an 89.6% increase since 2014 and a 3.5% gain from 2017 to 2018.
The latest available country-specific data in 2016 shows that 97.5% of products exported from Afghanistan was bought by importers in: Pakistan (47.5% of the global total), India (38.6%), Iran (3.2%), Turkey (2%), Iraq (1.9%), United Arab Emirates (1.6%), China (0.8%), Germany (0.7%), Kazakhstan (also 0.7%) and Russia (0.6%).
From a continental perspective, 97.4% of Afghanistan’s exports by value were delivered to Asian countries while 2.2% were sold to Europe importers. Afghanistan shipped another 0.3% worth of goods to North America. Smaller percentages went to Oceania (0.08%) led by Australia and Africa (0.01%).
Given Afghanistan’s population of 34.9 million people, its total $1.1 billion in 2018 exports translates to roughly $30 for every resident in the economically depressed Asian country.
In macroeconomic terms, Afghanistan’s total exported goods represent 1.5% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2018 ($72.6 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 1.5% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2018 compares to 1.7% for 2014, seeming to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Afghanistan’s total economic performance. And while this article focuses on exported goods, it is interesting to note that Afghanistan also provided $680.7 million worth of exports-related services to global customers for an additional 0.9% of GDP in PPP.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Afghanistan’s unemployment rate was projected to be 8.5% in 2019 down from 8.8% one year earlier, according to Trading Economics.
Afghanistan’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Afghan global shipments during 2018, at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Afghanistan.
- Fruits, nuts: US$466.1 million (43.1% of total exports)
- Vegetables: $120.8 million (11.2%)
- Gums, resins, other vegetable saps: $103.5 million (9.6%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $98.1 million (9.1%)
- Cotton: $44.7 million (4.1%)
- Iron, steel: $43.8 million (4.1%)
- Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $41.2 million (3.8%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $39.8 million (3.7%)
- Gems, precious metals: $23.5 million (2.2%)
- Oil seeds: $17.6 million (1.6%)
Afghanistan’s top 10 exports accounted for 92.4% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Mineral fuels including oil were the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up by 42.3% since 2017, propelled by increasing international sales of coal and, to a lesser extent, refined petroleum oils.
In second place for improving export sales were vegetables thanks to a 40.2% rise.
Afghanistan’s shipments of fruits and nuts posted the third-fastest gain in value, up by 15.2% year over year.
The leading decliner among Afghanistan’s top 10 export categories was gems and precious metals via a -76.8% drop largely due to diminishing revenues for gold.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, fresh or dried grapes represent Afghanistan ’s most valuable exported product at 20.4% of the country’s total. In second place were natural gums, resins and balsams (9.6%) trailed by coal including solid fuels made from coal (8.7%), dates, figs, pineapples, mangoes, avocadoes and guavas (7.3%), miscellaneous nuts (6.7%), dried shelled vegetables (6.2%), iron or steel scrap (4%), uncombed cotton (3.7%), dried fruit (3.3%) then natural steatite (3.1%).
The following types of Afghan product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports.
In a nutshell, net exports represent the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.
- Fruits, nuts: US$339 million (Up by 98.2% since 2017)
- Gums, resins, other vegetable saps: $101.1 million (Up by 8.8%)
- Cotton: $36.4 million (Down by -15%)
- Gems, precious metals: $12.4 million (Up by 156.7%)
- Raw hides, skins not furskins, leather: $11.2 million (Up by 34.8%)
- Miscellaneous animal-origin products: $4.9 million (Down by -13.7%)
- Wool: $3.6 million (Down by -24%)
- Collector items, art, antiques: $3.2 million (Reversing a -$3.1 million deficit)
- Furskins, artificial fur: $3 million (Down by -25.9%)
- Woodpulp: $1.4 million (Reversing a -$491,000 deficit)
Traditionally, Afghanistan has posted highly positive net exports in the international trade of dried grapes, figs, pistachios, almonds and apricots. In turn, these cashflows indicate Afghanistan’s strong competitive advantages under the fruits and nuts product category.
Overall Afghanistan incurred a -$4.6 billion trade deficit for 2018, down by -53.3% from -$9.8 billion one year earlier.
Below are exports from Afghanistan that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Afghanistan’s goods trail Afghan importer spending on foreign products.
- Vehicles: -US$891.8 million (Down by -25.2% since 2017)
- Milling products, malt, starches: -$410.8 million (Down by -5.4%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$362.2 million (Down by -74.3%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: -$250.5 million (Down by -68.3%)
- Machinery including computers: -$228.4 million (Down by -42.2%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: -$220.2 million (Down by -42.6%)
- Cereals: -$218.4 million (Up by 6.6%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$218.3 million (Down by -35.3%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: -$175.3 million (Down by -36.7%)
- Arms, ammunition: -$162.7 million (Up by 479.9%)
Afghanistan has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the vehicles category, particularly for tanks and other armored fighting vehicles, special purpose vehicles cars, trucks, then motorcycles.
Afghan Export Companies
Not one Afghan corporation ranks among the Forbes Global 2000.
Wikipedia lists exports-related companies from Afghanistan. Selected examples are shown below:
- Afghanistan International Bank (commercial bank)
- AZ Corporation (construction materials)
- Khyber Afghan Airlines (cargo airliner)
- Spinzar Cotton Company (cotton)
- Watan Group (oil, mining and telecom conglomerate)
Afghanistan’s capital city is Kabul.
See also Pakistan’s Top Trading Partners, Top Almonds Exporters by Country and Capital Facts for Kabul, Afghanistan
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on August 20, 2018
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on July 12, 2019
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on August 20, 2018
The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on July 12, 2019
Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on July 12, 2019
Wikipedia, Afghanistan. Accessed on August 20, 2018
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on July 12, 2019
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Afghanistan. Accessed on August 20, 2018
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on July 12, 2019