El Salvador’s Top 10 Exports

El Salvador's flag

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Central America’s smallest and most densely populated country, the Republic of El Salvador shipped US$4.6 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2016. That dollar amount reflects a -17.1% drop since 2013 and a -14.7% decrease from 2016 to 2017.

Based on estimates from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, El Salvador’s exported goods plus services represent 25.1% of total El Salvadoran economic output or Gross Domestic Product. The analysis below focuses on exported products only.

From a continental perspective, $2.5 billion or 53.9% of Salvadoran exports by value were delivered to fellow importers in Latin America (excluding Mexico) and other Caribbean nations. Another 37.4% worth arrived in North America. El Salvador shipped 4.6% worth of goods to Asian countries with 3.8% going to customers in Europe.

Given El Salvador’s population of 6.2 million people, its total $4.6 billion in 2017 exports translates to roughly $740 for every resident in the country.

El Salvador’s unemployment rate was projected to be 7.1% in 2018 according to Statistica, the Statistics Portal.

El Salvador’s Top 10 Exports

Top 10

The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Salvadoran global shipments during 2017. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from El Salvador.

  1. Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: US$1.2 billion (25.4% of total exports)
  2. Plastics, plastic articles: $354.5 million (7.8%)
  3. Sugar, sugar confectionery: $283.7 million (6.2%)
  4. Paper, paper items: $261.5 million (5.7%)
  5. Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $209.1 million (4.6%)
  6. Knit or crochet fabric: $149.3 million (3.3%)
  7. Pharmaceuticals: $139.1 million (3.1%)
  8. Cereal/milk preparations: $136.4 million (3%)
  9. Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $133.9 million (2.9%)
  10. Iron, steel: $131.1 million (2.9%)

El Salvador’s top 10 exports accounted for almost two-thirds (64.9%) of the overall value of its global shipments.

Sugar and sugar confectionery was the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up 34.6% from 2016 to 2017.

In second place for improving export sales was the beverages, spirits and vinegar category’s 12.9% gain.

Salvadoran iron or steel shipments posted the third-fastest gain in value up 10.1%.

Year over year, knitted or crocheted clothing exports from El Salvador declined one quarter in value.


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.

  1. Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: US$989.1 million (Down by -37% since 2016)
  2. Sugar, sugar confectionery: $256.5 million (Up by 39.2%)
  3. Coffee, tea, spices: $113 million (Up by 13.3%)
  4. Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $107 million (Down by -36.9%)
  5. Meat/seafood preparations: $30.7 million (Up by 18.7%)
  6. Stone, plaster, cement, asbestos: $21.8 million (Up by 25.7%)
  7. Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $20.2 million (Up by 818.7%)
  8. Milling products, malt, starches: $16.4 million (Up by 36.1%)
  9. Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $15.7 million (Down by -3.6%)
  10. Cereal/milk preparations: $2.9 million (Reversing a -$3.8 million deficit in 2016)

El Salvador has highly positive net exports in the international trade of apparel, principally due to the country’s low-cost labor force. In turn, these cashflows indicate El Salvador’s strong competitive advantages under the clothing product category.


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.

  1. Mineral fuels including oil: -US$1.2 billion (Up by 17.3% since 2016)
  2. Electrical machinery, equipment: -$699.7 million (Up by 55.2%)
  3. Machinery including computers: -$650.4 million (Down by -1.8%)
  4. Vehicles: -$498.1 million (Up by 1.7%)
  5. Plastics, plastic articles: -$254.7 million (Down by -9.8%)
  6. Pharmaceuticals: -$209.2 million (Down by -2.4%)
  7. Cereals: -$200.5 million (Down by -18.2%)
  8. Miscellaneous food preparations: -$191.5 million (Down by -3%)
  9. Iron, steel: -$191.3 million (Up by 63.6%)
  10. Cotton: -$182.9 million (Up by 23.1%)

El Salvador has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for mineral fuels-related products, particularly refined oil 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)

El Salvador’s capital city is San Salvador.

Please note that the results listed above are at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level.

See also Sugar Exports by Country, Honduras Top 10 Exports and Guatemala’s Top 10 Trading Partners

Research Sources:
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on February 16, 2018

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on February 16, 2018

Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on February 16, 2018

Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on July 23, 2016

Statistica, El Salvador: Unemployment rate from 2012 to 2022. Accessed on February 16, 2018

Wikipedia, List of Companies of El Salvador. Accessed on July 23, 2016

Forbes 2015 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on July 23, 2016