Formerly a British Empire colony and now formally called the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong shipped US$569.1 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2018. That dollar amount reflects an 8.6% gain since 2014 and a 3.5% uptick from 2017 to 2018.
From a continental perspective, over three-quarters (77.4%) of Hong Kong’s exports by value were delivered to Asian countries while 10.4% were sold to European importers. Hong Kong shipped another 9.2% worth of goods to North America. At about 1% each, much smaller percentages were delivered to Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean, Africa and Oceania led by Australia.
Given Hong Kong’s population of 7.2 million people, its total $569.1 billion in 2018 exports translates to roughly $79,900 for every resident in the Chinese administrative territory.
In macroeconomic terms, Hong Kong’s total exported goods represent 118.4% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2018 ($480.5 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 118.4% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2018 compares to 141.1% for 2014, seeming to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Hong Kong’s total economic performance. And while this article focuses on exported goods, it is interesting to note that Hong Kong also provided $114 billion worth of exports-related services to global customers for an additional 23.7% of GDP in PPP. Those metrics include a significant amount of re-exporting activity.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Hong Kong’s unemployment rate was 2.8% at May 2019 remaining at its lowest level since January 1998, according to Trading Economics.
Hong Kong’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Hong Kong global shipments during 2018. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Hong Kong.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$309.7 billion (54.4% of total exports)
- Machinery including computers: $74.5 billion (13.1%)
- Gems, precious metals: $68.2 billion (12%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $18.3 billion (3.2%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $10 billion (1.8%)
- Clocks, watches including parts: $8.5 billion (1.5%)
- Toys, games: $7.2 billion (1.3%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $7 billion (1.2%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $6.2 billion (1.1%)
- Leather/animal gut articles: $4.6 billion (0.8%)
Hong Kong’s top 10 exports accounted for 90.4% of the overall value of its global shipments.
The machinery including computers category placed first among the fastest-growing top products, up 10.6% from 2017 to 2018.
In second place was electrical machinery and equipment including consumer electronics via a 10% gain, trailed by optical, technical and medical apparatus which appreciated 7.9%.
Gems and precious metals led the decliners, down by -21.8% year over year weighed down by plunging international sales of gold and diamonds.
From the more detailed four-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level, Hong Kong’s most valuable exported products are electronic circuits and microassemblies (23.2% of total) trailed by mobile phones (13.7%). Other top exported goods from Hong Kong also include gold (6.5%), computer parts or accessories (4.7%), computers including optical readers (4.2%), unmounted diamonds (2.8%), solar power diodes and semi-conductors (2.5%) then printed circuits (2%).
The following types of Hong Kong 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.
- Gems, precious metals: US$2.7 billion (Down by -82.7% since 2017)
- Toys, games: $1.9 billion (Up by 31.1%)
- Glass: $1.1 billion (Up by 75.7%)
- Machinery including computers: $939.6 million (Down by -79.9%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $842.5 million (Down by -24.8%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $809.1 million (Up by 245%)
- Special woven/tufted fabric, embroidery: $427.8 million (Down by -4.3%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $362.5 million (Down by -61%)
- Books, newspapers, pictures: $362 million (Down by -16.8%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $335.4 million (Up by 19.9%)
Hong Kong had highly positive net exports in the international trade of gems and precious metals in 2018, particularly for gold and silver. In turn, these cashflows indicate Hong Kong’s strong competitive advantages under the gems and precious metals category.
Overall Hong Kong incurred a -$58.2 billion trade deficit for 2018, a 47.6% expansion from -$39.5 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Hong Kong that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Hong Kong’s goods trail spending on foreign products by importers in Hong Kong.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -US$18.2 billion (Down by -17.1% since 2017)
- Mineral fuels including oil: -$15.1 billion (Up by 26.8%)
- Meat: -$3.9 billion (Up by 13.6%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: -$3.3 billion (Up by 21.5%)
- Fish: -$2.8 billion (Up by 7.1%)
- Vehicles: -$2.8 billion (Down by -2%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: -$2.1 billion (Up by 8.3%)
- Collector items, art, antiques: -$1.7 billion (Up by 94%)
- Fruits, nuts: -$1.6 billion (Down by -12.8%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: -$1.5 billion (Down by -10%)
Hong Kong has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for electrical machinery and equipment including consumer electronics.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Hong Kong’s competitive disadvantages in the international electronics market, but also represent key opportunities for Hong Kong to improve its position in the global economy through focused innovations.
Hong Kong Export Companies
Fifty-eight corporations based in Hong Kong ranked on the Forbes Global 2000. Below is a sample of the major Hong Kong companies that Forbes included:
- Belle International Holdings (clothing, footwear)
- China Agri-Industries (diversified chemicals)
- China Mengniu Dairy (food processing)
- Chow Tai Fook Jewellery (clothing accessories)
- Citic Pacific (iron, steel)
- CNOOC (oil, gas)
- Lenovo Group (computer hardware)
- Michael Kors Holdings (clothing accessories)
- TPV Technology (computer storage devices)
- ZTE (communications equipment)
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following are smaller exporting firms from Hong Kong:
- E Bo Toys (tricycles, other wheeled toys)
- Fine Ceramic (ceramic kitchenware/tableware)
- Forever Bright Lighting (chandeliers, light fittings)
- Perfect Electronic (burglar/fire alarms)
- Wieson Technologies (electric switches, protectors, conductors, connectors)
As a Special Administrative “Region” of China, Hong Kong serves as its own capital city per se.
See also Hong Kong’s Top Trading Partners and Hong Kong’s Top 10 Imports
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on March 17, 2019
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on June 28, 2019
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on June 28, 2019
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 17, 2019
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on June 28, 2019
Wikipedia, Hong Kong. Accessed on March 17, 2019
Wikipedia, List of companies of Hong Kong. Accessed on March 17, 2019
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on June 28, 2019
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on March 17, 2019