Located at the confluence of the northern Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, the Republic of Cuba shipped an estimated US$1.8 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2018. That dollar amount reflects a -22.3% decline since 2014 and a -7.1% decrease from 2017 to 2018.
In addition, Cuba furnished an estimated $10.7 billion worth of international services during 2018 encompassing about $3 billion from travel-related services.
Based on the latest 2017 estimates from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, Cuba’s exported goods plus services represent 14.6% of total Cuban economic output or Gross Domestic Product. Please note that the overall value of exported goods and services includes re-exports. The analysis below focuses on exported products only.
Given Cuba’s population of 11.1 million people, its total $1.8 billion in 2018 exported products translates to roughly $165 for every resident in the Caribbean island country.
Trading Economics forecasts Cuba’s unemployment rate to be 2% as of September 2019.
Cuba’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Cuban 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 Cuba.
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: US$283.5 million (15.5% of total exports)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $237.8 million (13%)
- Nickel: $190.9 million (10.5%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $116.4 million (6.4%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $104.1 million (5.7%)
- Fish: $93.3 million (5.1%)
- Iron, steel: $43.8 million (2.4%)
- Wood: $42.6 million (2.3%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $37.8 million (2.1%)
- Copper: $18.6 million (1%)
Cuba’s top 10 exports account for almost two-thirds (64.1%) of the value for the Caribbean country’s overall shipments.
Propelled by improving international sales of zinc and lead, the ores, slag and ash category was Cuba’s fastest-growing top 10 export category thanks to a robust 7,392% increase from 2017 to 2018.
A distant second was nickel via its 35.6% uptick.
The only other top category to post a year-over-year increase was fish, up 5.2%.
Leading the decliners was sugar including sugar confectionery (down -60%), copper (down -24.7%) then pharmaceuticals (down -22.1%).
Drilling down to 4-digit HTS codes, Cuba’s most valuable exported good is cigars, cigarillos and cigarettes ($277.8 million). In second place was cane or beet sugar ($236.8 million), nickel matte and oxide sinters ($179.6 million), alcoholic beverages ($113.3 million), lobsters and other crustaceans ($84.5 million), zinc ores and concentrates then wood charcoal ($42.5 million).
The following types of Cuban 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.
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: US$278.4 million (Down by -3.5% since 2017)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $212.1 million (Down by -63.8%)
- Nickel: $174.7 million (Up by 26.9%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $101.1 million (Up by 38,178%)
- Fish: $75.2 million (Up by 9.1%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $40.3 million (Up by 42.9%)
- Wood: $8.2 million (Down by -36.8%)
- Gems, precious metals: $7.6 million (Down by -270.9%)
- Collector items, art, antiques: $1.3 million (Down by -128.4%)
- Copper: $866,000 (Down by -136.1%)
Cuba has highly positive net exports in the international trade of tobacco as well as cane or beet sugar and chemically pure sucrose, in solid form. In turn, these cashflows indicate Cuba’s strong competitive advantages under the tobacco and sugar categories above.
Overall, Cuba incurred a -$4.3 billion trade deficit for 2018. That negative balance represents a -11.4% decrease from -$4.9 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Cuba that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Cuba’s goods trail Cuban importer spending on foreign products.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -US$492.2 million (Down by -16.8% since 2017)
- Vehicles: -$467.8 million (Down by -11.1%)
- Cereals: -$355.6 million (Down by -8.6%)
- Meat: -$276.1 million (Up by 2.7%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$238.8 million (Down by -10.7%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$198.1 million (Up by 19.9%)
- Food industry waste, animal fodder: -$185.1 million (Down by -1.2%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: -$163.5 million (Down by -16.2%)
- Dairy, eggs, honey: -$161.7 million (Down by -13.8%)
- Other chemical goods: -$126.5 million (Down by -0.3%)
Cuba has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the electrical machinery and equipment category notably sound recording apparatus, recorded media and mobile phones.
Cuban Export Companies
No Cuban corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000.
Wikipedia lists exports-related companies from Cuba. Selected examples are shown below:
- Cubana de Aviación (airline)
- Cubatabaco (tobacco)
- Cuba Petróleo Unión (oil, gas)
- Havana Club (rum)
- Modelo Brewery (beer)
Cuba’s capital city is Havana.
See also Russia’s Top 10 Imports, Russia’s Top Trading Partners and Sugar Exports by Country
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles. Accessed on September 8, 2019
Forbes, Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on September 8, 2019
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Databases (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on September 8, 2019
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on September 8, 2019
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on September 8, 2019
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Cuba. Accessed on September 8, 2019
Wikipedia, Cuba. Accessed on September 8, 2019