Located near South America’s mid-western coastline, the Plurinational State of Bolivia shipped US$9 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2018. That dollar amount reflects a -30.3% decline since 2014 but a 14.2% gain from 2017 to 2018.
From a continental perspective, almost half (48.6%) of Bolivian exports by value were delivered to fellow Latin American countries excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean. Another 32.5% was sold to Asian importers, with 8.8% going to Asia and 8% to North America. At 2%, a smaller percentage arrived in Oceania led by Australia.
Given Bolivia’s population of 11.3 million people, its total $9 billion worth of 2018 exports translates to roughly $800 for each resident in the South American country.
In macroeconomic terms, Bolivia’s total exported goods represent 10.7% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2018 ($84.1 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 10.7% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2018 compares to 13.5% for 2014, seeming to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Bolivia’s total economic performance. And while this article focuses on exported goods, it is interesting to note that Bolivia also provided $1.5 billion worth of exports-related services to global customers for an additional 1.7% of GDP in PPP.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Bolivia’s unemployment rate was forecast to be 3.6% as of March 2019, according to Trading Economics.
Bolivia’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Bolivian 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 Bolivia.
- Mineral fuels including oil: US$3.1 billion (35% of total exports)
- Ores, slag, ash: $2.3 billion (26.1%)
- Gems, precious metals: $1.4 billion (15.1%)
- Food industry waste, animal fodder: $544.1 million (6.1%)
- Tin: $318.2 million (3.5%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $294.3 million (3.3%)
- Fruits, nuts: $255 million (2.8%)
- Cereals: $89.7 million (1%)
- Oil seeds: $77.6 million (0.9%)
- Fertilizers: $67.8 million (0.8%)
Bolivia’s top 10 exports accounted for 94.6% of the overall value of its global shipments.
The food industry waste and animal fodder category posted the fastest gain in value, up 49% from 2017 to 2018.
In second place for improving export sales were animal or vegetable fats, oils and waxes which appreciated by 29.8%.
Exported fruits and nuts rose 26.6% year over year.
The sole decliner among Bolivia’s top exported goods was tin, thanks to its -2.3% setback.
Drilling down to the more granular 4-digit HTS codes, Bolivia’s most valuable export products are petroleum gases (33.7% of total) trailed by zinc (12.1%), gold (13%), soya-bean oil cake plus other solid residues (5.9%), precious-metal ores and concentrates (also 5.9%), then unprocessed tin (3.5%).
The following types of Bolivian 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.
- Ores, slag, ash: US$2.3 billion (Up by 5.5% since 2017)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $1.8 billion (Up by 2.1%)
- Gems, precious metals: $1.3 billion (Up by 12.6%)
- Food industry waste, animal fodder: $497.6 million (Up by 52.8%)
- Tin: $317.8 million (Down by -2.3%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $275.8 million (Up by 32.7%)
- Fruits, nuts: $232.4 million (Up by 29.2%)
- Oil seeds: $57.9 million (Up by 12.7%)
- Cereals: $41.9 million (Up by 166.7%)
- Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $26.7 million (Up by 129.6%)
Bolivia has highly positive net exports in the international trade of precious-metal and lead ores or concentrates. In turn, these cashflows indicate Bolivia’s strong competitive advantages under the ores, slag and ash category.
Overall, Bolivia realized a -$1 billion deficit in 2018 down -28.9% from the -$1.5 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Bolivia that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Bolivia’s goods trail Bolivian importer spending on foreign products.
- Machinery including computers: -US$1.9 billion (Up by 16.4% since 2017)
- Vehicles: -$1 billion (Down by -13.4%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$787.3 million (Up by 12.7%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$488.1 million (Up by 13.3%)
- Iron, steel: -$463.7 million (Up by 9%)
- Other chemical goods: -$368.2 million (Up by 13.3%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$331.1 million (Up by 9.1%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$202.2 million (Up by 5.8%)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: -$172.8 million (Up by 14.6%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: -$162.7 million (Down by -0.4%)
Bolivia has highly negative net exports and therefore competitive disadvantages for computers and other types of machines including steam turbines and turbo-jets.
Bolivian Export Companies
Not one Bolivian corporation ranks among companies listed by Forbes Global 2000.
Wikipedia lists some exports-related companies from Bolivia. Selected examples are shown below:
- Banco Mercantil Santa Cruz (financial services)
- Banco Nacional de Bolivia (financial services)
- Boliviana de Aviación (airlines)
- Línea Aérea Amaszonas (airlines)
- Transportes Aéreos Bolivianos (air cargo)
- YPFB (oil, gas)
Bolivia has two capital cities. La Paz is the de facto working capital, while Sucre is constitutionally the legal capital city.
See also Bolivia’s Top Trading Partners, Brazil’s Top 10 Imports and Top South American Export Countries
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on March 12, 2019
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 12, 2019
The World Factbook, Field Listing: Imports – Commodities, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on March 12, 2019
Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on March 12, 2019
Wikipedia, Bolivia. Accessed on March 12, 2019
Wikipedia, Airlines of Bolivia. Accessed on March 12, 2019
Wikipedia, Category: Banks of Bolivia. Accessed on March 12, 2019
Wikipedia, Oil and Gas Companies of Bolivia. Accessed on March 12, 2019
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on July 3, 2019
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on July 3, 2019