Sharing its eastern borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran shipped an estimated US$27 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects a -55.1% decrease since 2015 and a -72.1% drop from 2018 to 2019.
The latest available country-specific data from 2018 shows that 60.5% of products exported from Iran were bought by importers in: China (14.7% of the global total), Iraq (14.3%), United Arab Emirates (9.5%), Afghanistan (4.7%), South Korea (4.1%), Turkey (3.8%), India (3.3%), Pakistan (2.0%), Indonesia (1.3%), Oman (1.2%), Thailand (1.1%) and Azerbaijan (0.7%).
Given Iran’s population of 83.3 million people, its total $27 billion in 2019 exports translates to roughly $350 for every resident in the Middle Eastern country.
Iran’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Iranian global shipments during 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Iran.
- Mineral fuels including oil: US$16.4 billion (60.8% of total exports)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $3.1 billion (11.6%)
- Organic chemicals: $1.6 billion (6.1%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $1.3 billion (5%)
- Fruits, nuts: $835.8 million (3.1%)
- Iron, steel: $725.7 million (2.7%)
- Copper: $540.6 million (2%)
- Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $412.1 million (1.5%)
- Fertilizers: $204.7 million (0.8%)
- Vegetables: $173 million (0.6%)
Iran’s top 10 exports accounted for 94.2% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Ores, slag and ash (up 18.1%) was Iran’s sole top export category to grow from 2018 to 2019, powered by higher international sales of iron ores and concentrates.
The leading decliner among Iran’s top 10 export categories was vegetables thanks to a -83.9% drop year over year.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, crude oil represents Iran’s most valuable exported product at 51.1% of the country’s total. In second place were ethylene polymers (10.4%), iron ores and concentrates (4.7%), acyclic alcohols (4.6%), miscellaneous nuts (2%), refined copper and unwrought alloys (1.5%) and semi-finished iron or non-alloy steel products (1.2%).
The following types of Iranian 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.
- Mineral fuels including oil: US$16.2 billion (Down by -75.5% since 2018)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $2.2 billion (Down by -47.8%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $1.3 billion (Up by 19.7%)
- Fruits, nuts: $737.4 million (Down by -44.3%)
- Copper: $522.7 million (Down by -23%)
- Organic chemicals: $381.6 million (Down by -86%)
- Iron, steel: $378.5 million (Down by -86%)
- Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $349.3 million (Down by -49.8%)
- Zinc: $158.7 million (Down by -34.1%)
- Vegetables: $119.4 million (Down by -85.7%)
Iran has highly positive net exports in the international trade of mineral fuels-related products particularly crude oil and, to a lesser extent, refined oils, petroleum gases and petroleum residues including coke and bitumen. In turn, these cashflows indicate Iran’s strong competitive advantages under the mineral fuel products-related category.
Iran incurred an estimated -$160.4 million deficit for 2019, reversing a $55.4 billion surplus one year earlier.
Below are exports from Iran that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Iran’s goods trail Iranian importer spending on foreign products.
- Cereals: -US$3.6 billion (Down by -17.2% since 2018)
- Machinery including computers: -$3.5 billion (Down by -51.7%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$2.1 billion (Down by -39%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: -$1.3 billion (Down by -3.5%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$1.1 billion (Down by -27.2%)
- Oil seeds: -$1 billion (Down by -30.2%)
- Food industry waste, animal fodder: -$918.1 million (Up by 43.1%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: -$815.4 million (Down by -15.7%)
- Paper, paper items: -$670.3 million (Down by -8.5%)
- Vehicles: -$670.2 million (Down by -50.4%)
Iran has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for rice, corn and barley under the cereals category.
Iranian Export Companies
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following companies are examples of diverse exporters from Iran.
- Pars Pak (carpets, other textile floor coverings)
- Sana T Tejarat Anahita (grapes, raisins)
- Khadem Trading (cereals, aerated/mineral water)
- Dezdasht Agro Industry (juice, jams)
- Omid Nikan (acyclic polyhydric alcohols)
- Kayson (grinding machines, tubes/pipes/hoses, doors)
- Dashte Morghab (flour, meal)
- Celulose Irani (wooden furniture)
- Bushehr Marine Products (citrus fruit, melons)
- Axis Global Trading (pistachios)
In macroeconomic terms, Iran’s total exported goods represent 1.8% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($1.471 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 1.8% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2019 compares to 4.1% for 2018. Those metrics suggest a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Iran’s total economic performance albeit based on a short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Iran’s average unemployment rate was 14.481% for 2019 down from 16.784% one year earlier, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Iran’s capital city is Tehran.
See also Top Middle Eastern Export Countries, Iraq’s Top 10 Exports and Grapes Exports by Country
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on June 13, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map: Iran export data. Accessed on June 13, 2020
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Middle East: Iran. Accessed on June 13, 2020
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on June 13, 2020
Wikipedia, Iran. Accessed on June 13, 2020
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on June 13, 2020
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on June 13, 2020