Central America’s smallest and most densely populated country, the Republic of El Salvador shipped US$4.1 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2020. That dollar amount reflects a -0.9% decrease since 2016 and a -13.3% downtick from 2019 to 2020.
Please note that El Salvador adopted the US dollar as its official currency in 2001.
From a continental perspective, 59.3% of Salvadoran exports by value was delivered to importers in Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean. El Salvador shipped another 32.2% worth of goods to North American countries with 4.7% going to customers in Asia, 3.6% delivered in Europe, 0.1% sent to Oceania led by New Zealand and Australia, and 0.1% bought by importers in Africa.
Given El Salvador’s population of 6.5 million people, its total $4.1 billion in 2020 exports translates to roughly $600 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 2020 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$778.8 million (18.8% of total exports)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $365 million (8.8%)
- Paper, paper items: $304.2 million (7.3%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $287.1 million (6.9%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $180.2 million (4.4%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $157.6 million (3.8%)
- Cereal/milk preparations: $146.6 million (3.5%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $128.3 million (3.1%)
- Miscellaneous textiles, worn clothing: $119.5 million (2.9%)
- Knit or crochet fabric: $116.3 million (2.8%)
El Salvador’s top 10 exports accounted for over three-fifths (62.4%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Miscellaneous textiles and worn clothing was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 77.1% since 2019. In second place for improving export sales was sugar and sugar confectionery which rose 12.9%. El Salvador’s shipments of pharmaceuticals (up 5.8%) was the only other category to increase.
The leading decliner among El Salvador’s top 10 export categories was knitted or crocheted fabric which fell -38.3% year over year.
Drilling down to the more detailed 4-digit HTS codes, El Salvador’s most valuable exported goods include T-shirts, sugar, plastic packing items including lids, jerseys, tissues napkins and toilet paper, medicines, stockings or hosiery, and coffee.
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$691.9 million (Down by -25% since 2019)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $262.2 million (Up by 18%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $98 million (Down by -4.8%)
- Paper, paper items: $44.9 million (Up by 76.3%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $43.7 million (Down by -47.5%)
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $19.4 million (Down by -8.9%)
- Gems, precious metals: $16.6 million (Up by 195.1%)
- Stone, plaster, cement, asbestos: $10.5 million (Down by -28.4%)
- Milling products, malt, starches: $6.5 million (Down by -62.7%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $5.1 million (Reversing a -$1.3 million deficit))
El Salvador has highly positive net exports in the international trade of apparel and sugar, partially 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 -$5.9 billion deficit in 2020, declining by -9.3% from -$6.6 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.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -US$942.4 million (Up by 17.2% since 2019)
- Mineral fuels including oil: -$883.7 million (Down by -40.9%)
- Machinery including computers: -$611.3 million (Down by -15%)
- Vehicles: -$423 million (Down by -24.5%)
- Cereals: -$260.5 million (Down by -7.6%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$257.7 million (Down by -5.9%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$245.4 million (Down by -12.4%)
- Dairy, eggs, honey: -$219.8 million (Up by 14.5%)
- Meat: -$203.5 million (Down by -4.3%)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: -$188.1 million (Down by -6.9%)
El Salvador has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for electrical machinery and equipment, particularly for mobile phones and electric generating sets.
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 8.1% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($51.3 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 8.1% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2020 compares to 8.6% for 2019, seeming to indicate a 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 forecasted to be 8.5% for 2020 compared to an average 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 February 25, 2021
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on February 25, 2021
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on February 25, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on February 25, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on February 25, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on February 25, 2021
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on February 25, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of El Salvador. Accessed on February 25, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on February 25, 2021