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$5.8 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2017. That dollar amount reflects a 4.9% increase since 2013 and an 8% gain from 2016 to 2017.

As of June 2018, El Salvador’s exported goods were valued at $2.4 billion up 5.9% compared to the first 6 months of 2017.

Based on estimates from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, El Salvador’s exported goods plus services represent 25.1% of total Salvadoran 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.

From a continental perspective, about 48% of Salvadoran exports by value was delivered to North America while another 45.3% worth was sent to fellow importers in Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean. El Salvador shipped another 3.7% worth of goods to Asian countries with 3.1% going to customers in Europe.

Given El Salvador’s population of 6.2 million people, its total $5.8 billion in 2017 exports translates to roughly $900 for every resident in the Central American country.

El Salvador’s unemployment rate was projected to be 7.1% as of June 2018 according to Trading Economics.

El Salvador’s Top 10 Exports

Top 10

The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Salvadoran global shipments during 2017 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.

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.

  1. Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: US$1.9 billion (33% of total exports)
  2. Plastics, plastic articles: $368.9 million (6.4%)
  3. Electrical machinery, equipment: $309.3 million (5.4%)
  4. Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $283.9 million (4.9%)
  5. Sugar, sugar confectionery: $283.7 million (4.9%)
  6. Paper, paper items: $276 million (4.8%)
  7. Mineral fuels including oil: $182.6 million (3.2%)
  8. Knit or crochet fabric: $160.7 million (2.8%)
  9. Pharmaceuticals: $139.7 million (2.4%)
  10. Iron, steel: $136.7 million (2.4%)

El Salvador’s top 10 exports accounted for over two-thirds (70.2%) of the overall value of its global shipments.

Mineral fuels including oil was the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up 94.1% from 2016 to 2017.

In second place for improving export sales was sugar and sugar confectionary via its 34.6% gain, trailed by the 24.7% appreciation for exported electrical machinery and equipment up 24.7% then El Salvador’s exported iron and steel up 14.8%.


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. Sugar, sugar confectionery: $256.5 million (Up by 39.2% since 2016)
  2. Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $179.7 million (Up by 5.9%)
  3. Coffee, tea, spices: $113 million (Up by 13.3%)
  4. Meat/seafood preparations: $30.6 million (Up by 18.3%)
  5. Stone, plaster, cement, asbestos: $21.3 million (Up by 22.7%)
  6. Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $20.2 million (Up by 816.7%)
  7. Milling products, malt, starches: $16.4 million (Up by 36.1%)
  8. Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $15.7 million (Down by -3.6%)
  9. Cereal/milk preparations: $3 million (Reversing a -$3.8 million deficit)

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


Overall El Salvador incurred a -$4.8 billion deficit in 2017, up by 6.9% from -$4.5 billion one year earlier.

As of June 2018, El Salvador’s trade deficit stood at -$2.9 billion up 15.8% compared to the first 6 months of 2017.

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 16% since 2016)
  2. Machinery including computers: -$658.2 million (Down by -0.6%)
  3. Vehicles: -$509.1 million (Up by 4%)
  4. Electrical machinery, equipment: -$500.7 million (Up by 11.1%)
  5. Plastics, plastic articles: -$277.3 million (Down by -1.8%)
  6. Pharmaceuticals: -$208.9 million (Down by -2.6%)
  7. Cereals: -$202.3 million (Down by -17.4%)
  8. Cotton: -$201.1 million (Up by 35.4%)
  9. Miscellaneous food preparations: -$190.9 million (Down by -3.3%)
  10. Iron, steel: -$188.5 million (Up by 61.2%)

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

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 September 4, 2018

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on September 4, 2018

Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on September 4, 2018

Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on September 4, 2018

Wikipedia, List of Companies of El Salvador. Accessed on September 4, 2018

Forbes 2015 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on September 4, 2018