A Nordic island nation east of Greenland in the North Atlantic ocean, Iceland shipped US$5.2 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects a 10.8% gain since 2015 but a -5.9% decrease from 2018 to 2019.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2019, the Icelandic króna appreciated by 8.2% against the US dollar since 2015 but declined by -10.5% from 2018 to 2019. Iceland’s weaker local currency since 2018 makes its exports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively less expensive for international buyers.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 83.3% of products exported from Iceland were bought by importers in: Netherlands (26.3% of the global total), United Kingdom (10.3%), Spain (9.4%), United States (7.3%), France (7.1%), Germany (5.9%), Canada (4.4%), Norway (3.9%), China (2.5%), Denmark (2.3%), Poland (2.1%) and Portugal (1.8%).
From a continental perspective, four-fifths of Icelandic exports by value were delivered to fellow European countries while 11.7% were sold to importers in North America. Iceland shipped another 5.4% worth of goods to Asia. Smaller percentages went to customers in Africa (1.8%), Latin America (0.7%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean, and 0.6% to importers in Oceania led by Australia and New Zealand.
Given Iceland’s population of 357,000 people, its total $5.2 billion in 2019 exports translates to roughly $14,700 for every resident in the Nordic island country.
Iceland’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Icelandic global shipments during 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Iceland.
- Fish: US$2 billion (38.8% of total exports)
- Aluminum: $1.8 billion (34.4%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $158.8 million (3%)
- Iron, steel: $143.9 million (2.7%)
- Machinery including computers: $137.1 million (2.6%)
- Food industry waste, animal fodder: $132.9 million (2.5%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $121.2 million (2.3%)
- Meat/seafood preparations: $118.2 million (2.3%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $90.4 million (1.7%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $82.8 million (1.6%)
Iceland’s top 10 exports are concentrated, accounting for 92.1% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Aircraft and spacecraft represents the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, thanks to its 19,753% gain since 2018. In second place for improving export sales was machinery including computers which rose 8.9%. Iceland’s shipments of fish posted the third-fastest gain in value via a 6.1% increase year over year.
The leading decliner year over year among Iceland’s top 10 export categories was the food industry waste and animal fodder which fell -38.3%.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level, Iceland’s most valuable exported products in 2019 were unwrought aluminum (27.3%), fish fillets and other pieces (19.7%), whole frozen fish (7%), miscellaneous dried, salted or smoked fish (5.8%), whole fresh fish (5.2%), aircraft and spacecraft (3%), aluminum wire (2.9%), aluminum bars or rods (2.8%), iron ferroalloys (2.5%) then inedible meat flour (2.4%).
The following types of Icelandic 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.
- Fish: US$1.9 billion (Up by 6.9% since 2018)
- Aluminum: $1.7 billion (Down by -20.5%)
- Meat/seafood preparations: $107.7 million (Down by -11.9%)
- Iron, steel: $91.1 million (Down by -35.3%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $77 million (Reversing a -$186.3 million deficit)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $44.7 million (Down by -38.2%)
- Food industry waste, animal fodder: $39.7 million (Down by -71%)
- Live animals: $7.6 million (Down by -2.8%)
- Raw hides, skins not furskins, leather: $4.7 million (Up by 11.4%)
- Organic chemicals: $1.4 million (Down by -8.8%)
Iceland has highly positive net exports in the international trade of fish. In turn, these cashflows indicate Iceland’s strong competitive advantages under the fish product category.
Overall, Iceland incurred a -$1.3 billion trade deficit for 2019 down over a third (-37.9%) from one year earlier.
Below are exports from Iceland that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Iceland’s goods trail Icelandic importer spending on foreign products.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$709.9 million (Down by -29.7% since 2018)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$680.7 million (Down by -10.7%)
- Inorganic chemicals: -$632.9 million (Down by -29.4%)
- Machinery including computers: -$580.2 million (Down by -9.3%)
- Vehicles: -$521.4 million (Down by -34.8%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefab buildings: -$193.7 million (Down by -13.8%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$158.8 million (Down by -3.9%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$158.3 million (Down by -6.6%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$154.8 million (Up by 8.1%)
- Wood: -$114.9 million (Down by -5.4%)
Iceland has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for refined petroleum oils, coal, petroleum coke and gases under the mineral fuels-related category.
Icelandic Export Companies
Not one Icelandic corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000.
Wikipedia lists export-related companies from Iceland. Selected examples are shown below:
- Arctic Trucks (commercial vehicles)
- Carbon Recycling International (methanol)
- Egill Skallagrímsson Brewery (alcoholic beverages)
- HB Grandi (fishery)
- Nói Síríus (chocolates)
- Promens (packaging, plastics)
- Sláturfélag Suðurlands (food producer co-op)
In macroeconomic terms, Iceland’s total exported goods represent 26.2% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($20 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 26.2% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2019 compares to 29.3% one year earlier. That metric seems to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Iceland’s total economic performance.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Iceland’s average unemployment rate was 3.3% in 2019 up from 2.742% one year earlier, according to Trading Economics.
Iceland’s capital city is Reykjavik.
See also Denmark’s Top Trading Partners, Frozen Fish Exports by Country and Capital Facts for Reykjavik, Iceland
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook: Country Profiles. Accessed on February 5, 2020
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on February 5, 2020
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on February 5, 2020
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on February 5, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on February 5, 2020
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on February 5, 2020
Richest Country Reports, Key Statistics Powering Global Wealth. Accessed on February 5, 2020
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on July 3, 2019
Wikipedia, Iceland. Accessed on February 5, 2020
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Iceland. Accessed on February 5, 2020
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on July 3, 2019