Central America’s smallest and most densely populated country, the Republic of El Salvador shipped US$4.8 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects a -13.3% decrease since 2015 but a 2.9% uptick from 2018 to 2019.
From a continental perspective, about 59% of Salvadoran exports by value was delivered to importers in Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean. El Salvador shipped another 34.5% worth of goods to North American countries with 3.5% going to customers in Europe, 2.7% delivered in Asia, 0.2% sent to Oceania led by New Zealand and Australia, then 0.1% bought by importers in Africa.
Given El Salvador’s population of 6.7 million people, its total $4.8 billion in 2019 exports translates to roughly $700 for every resident in the Central American country.
El Salvador’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Salvadoran global shipments during 2019 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 El Salvador.
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: US$1.1 billion (22.8% of total exports)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $384.2 million (8%)
- Paper, paper items: $332.9 million (7%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $254.2 million (5.3%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $200.5 million (4.2%)
- Knit or crochet fabric: $188.4 million (3.9%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $185.3 million (3.9%)
- Cereal/milk preparations: $174.2 million (3.6%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $170.3 million (3.6%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $159.2 million (3.3%)
El Salvador’s top 10 exports accounted for about two-thirds (65.7%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Pharmaceuticals represent the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up by 22.1% since 2018. In second place for improving export sales was knit or crochet fabric. El Salvador’s shipments of cereal or milk preparations posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 19.6% year over year.
Leading El Salvador’s declining top categories was unknit and non-crocheted clothing and accessories, retreating -10.1% per annum.
Drilling down to the more detailed 4-digit HTS codes, El Salvador’s most valuable exported goods are T-shirts, jerseys, overcoats, pantyhose, underwear and socks, plastic packing items including lids, sugar then tissues napkins and toilet paper.
The following types of Salvadoran 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.
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: US$922.4 million (Down by -11.1% since 2018)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $222.2 million (Up by 6.8%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $102.9 million (Down by -2%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $83.3 million (Down by -12.2%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $33.2 million (Up by 35.8%)
- Paper, paper items: $25.5 million (Reversing a -$4 million deficit)
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $21.3 million (Up by 46.6%)
- Cereal/milk preparations: $20.3 million (Up by 385.3%)
- Milling products, malt, starches: $17.4 million (Up by 7.7%)
- Stone, plaster, cement, asbestos: $14.6 million (Up by 1.3%)
El Salvador has highly positive net exports in the international trade of apparel and sugar, the former principally due to the country’s low-cost labor force. In turn, these cashflows indicate El Salvador’s strong competitive advantages under the clothing and sugar product categories.
El Salvador incurred an overall -$6.3 billion deficit in 2018, expanding by 30.2% from -$4.8 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from El Salvador that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country El Salvador’s goods trail Salvadoran importer spending on foreign products.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$1.5 billion (Down by -4.7% since 2018)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$804.4 million (Down by -3.9%)
- Machinery including computers: -$719 million (Up by 15.9%)
- Vehicles: -$560 million (Up by 8.5%)
- Cereals: -$281.9 million (Up by 10.6%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$280.2 million (Down by -12.8%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$273.8 million (Up by 23.1%)
- Iron, steel: -$229 million (Up by 0.3%)
- Meat: -$212.6 million (Up by 35.9%)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: -$202.1 million (Down by -1%)
El Salvador has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for mineral fuels-related products, particularly for refined petroleum oils and petroleum gases.
Salvadoran Export Companies
No Salvadoran corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000.
Wikipedia lists exporters from El Salvador. Selected examples are shown below:
- Empresas ADOC (shoes)
- Gpremper (internet technology)
- TACA Airlines (airliner)
- Unicomer Group (international retailer)
In macroeconomic terms, El Salvador’s total exported goods represent 8.6% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($55.7 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 8.6% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2019 compares to 8.7% for 2018, seeming to indicate a slightly decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for El Salvador’s total economic performance.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. El Salvador’s average unemployment rate was 7.019% for 2019 compared to 7% one year earlier, according to the International Monetary Fund.
El Salvador’s capital city is San Salvador.
See also Sugar Exports by Country, Honduras Top 10 Exports and Guatemala’s Top 10 Trading Partners
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles. Accessed on January 29, 2020
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on January 29, 2020
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on January 29, 2020
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on January 29, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on January 29, 2020
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on January 29, 2020
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on January 29, 2020
Wikipedia, List of Companies of El Salvador. Accessed on January 29, 2020
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on January 29, 2020