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 2018. That dollar amount reflects a -12.4% decrease since 2014 and an -19.4% downturn from 2017 to 2018.

As of July 24, 2019, El Salvador exported $2.4 billion worth of goods during the first 6 months of 2019 down -1.7% compared to the same period one year earlier.

From a continental perspective, about 57% of Salvadoran exports by value was delivered to importers in Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean. El Salvador shipped another 35.7% worth of goods to North American countries with 3.6% going to customers in Europe and 3.5% delivered in Asia.

Given El Salvador’s population of 6.2 million people, its total $4.6 billion in 2018 exports translates to roughly $800 for every resident in the Central American country.

In macroeconomic terms, El Salvador’s total exported goods represent 8.7% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2018 ($53.4 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 8.7% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2018 compares to 10.2% for 2014, seeming to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for El Salvador’s total economic performance. And while this article focuses on exported goods, it is interesting to note that El Salvador also provided $2.8 billion worth of exports-related services to global customers for an additional 5.2% of GDP in PPP.

Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. El Salvador’s unemployment rate was projected to be 7.1% as of June 2018, as estimated by 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 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 El Salvador.

  1. Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: US$1.2 billion (26.1% of total exports)
  2. Plastics, plastic articles: $334.4 million (7.2%)
  3. Paper, paper items: $291.2 million (6.3%)
  4. Sugar, sugar confectionery: $237.3 million (5.1%)
  5. Mineral fuels including oil: $209.6 million (4.5%)
  6. Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $206.2 million (4.4%)
  7. Knit or crochet fabric: $155.6 million (3.4%)
  8. Iron, steel: $152.7 million (3.3%)
  9. Cereal/milk preparations: $145.6 million (3.1%)
  10. Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $143 million (3.1%)

El Salvador’s top 10 exports accounted for about two-thirds (66.5%) of the overall value of its global shipments.

Mineral fuels including oil was the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up 14.8% from 2017 to 2018.

In second place for improving export sales was iron or steel metals via its 11.7% gain, trailed by the 6.8% appreciation for exported beverages, spirits and vinegar thanks to its 6.8% increase.

Leading El Salvador’s declining top categories was knit or crochet clothing and accessories, reducing -36.4% year over year.

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 goods and 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.

  1. Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: US$1 billion (Down by -32.8% since 2017)
  2. Sugar, sugar confectionery: $208 million (Down by -18.9%)
  3. Coffee, tea, spices: $105.1 million (Down by -7%)
  4. Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $94.8 million (Down by -47.2%)
  5. Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $24.4 million (Up by 21%)
  6. Meat/seafood preparations: $24.2 million (Down by -21%)
  7. Milling products, malt, starches: $16.1 million (Down by -1.5%)
  8. Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $14.5 million (Down by -7.4%)
  9. Stone, plaster, cement, asbestos: $14.4 million (Down by -32.4%)
  10. Cereal/milk preparations: $4.2 million (Up by 38.3%)

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.

  1. Mineral fuels including oil: -US$1.6 billion (Up by 27.9% since 2017)
  2. Electrical machinery, equipment: -$837 million (Up by 67.2%)
  3. Machinery including computers: -$620.3 million (Down by -5.8%)
  4. Vehicles: -$516 million (Up by 1.4%)
  5. Plastics, plastic articles: -$321.4 million (Up by 15.9%)
  6. Cereals: -$254.9 million (Up by 26%)
  7. Iron, steel: -$228.3 million (Up by 21.1%)
  8. Pharmaceuticals: -$222.4 million (Up by 6.5%)
  9. Miscellaneous food preparations: -$204.2 million (Up by 7%)
  10. Cotton: -$197.7 million (Down by -1.7%)

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)


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:
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on February 9, 2019

International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on July 3, 2019

Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on February 9, 2019

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on February 9, 2019

Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on July 24, 2019

Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on July 3, 2019

Wikipedia, List of Companies of El Salvador. Accessed on February 9, 2019

Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on July 3, 2019