Sharing its eastern borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran shipped US$96.6 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2018. That dollar amount reflects a 7% increase since 2014 and a 5.3% gain from 2017 to 2018.
The latest available country-specific data 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 million people, its total $96.6 billion in 2018 exports translates to roughly $1,200 for every resident in the Middle Eastern country.
In macroeconomic terms, Iran’s total exported goods represent 4.1% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2018 ($1.611 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 4.1% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2018 compares to 4.9% for 2014, seeming to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Iran’s total economic performance. And while this article focuses on exported goods, it is interesting to note that Iran also provided $10.6 billion worth of exports-related services to global customers for an additional 0.7% of GDP in PPP.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Iran’s unemployment rate was 12.2% at March 2019 up from 12.1% one year earlier, according to Trading Economics.
Iran’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Iranian global shipments during 2018. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Iran.
- Mineral fuels including oil: US$66.4 billion (68.7% of total exports)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $5.6 billion (5.7%)
- Organic chemicals: $4.1 billion (4.2%)
- Iron, steel: $3.9 billion (4%)
- Fruits, nuts: $1.7 billion (1.8%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $1.1 billion (1.2%)
- Vegetables: $1.1 billion (1.1%)
- Fertilizers: $843.7 million (0.9%)
- Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $785.2 million (0.8%)
- Copper: $700.6 million (0.7%)
Iran’s top 10 exports are highly concentrated, accounting for 89.2% of the overall value of Iranian global shipments.
Copper was the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up by 215.8% since 2017. In second place for improving export sales were vegetables via its 69.5% increase. Iran’s shipments of iron and steel posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 13.6%.
The leading decliner among Iran’s top 10 export categories was ores, slag and ash thanks to a -38.2% drop year over year, mainly weighed down by slowing international sales of iron and copper ores or concentrates.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, crude oil represents Iran’s most valuable exported product at 52.6% of the country’s total. In second place were refined petroleum oils (9.3%) trailed by petroleum gases (5.5%), ethylene polymers (3.5%), acyclic alcohols (2.3%), semi-finished iron or non-alloy steel products (1.6%), cyclic hydrocarbons (0.9%) and petroleum oil residues (also 0.9%).
Iran earned an overall $55.4 billion trade surplus in 2018, up by 38% from the $40.1 billion in black ink one year earlier.
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$66 billion (Up by 8.5% since 2017)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $4.3 billion (Up by 0.4%)
- Organic chemicals: $2.7 billion (Up by 4.4%)
- Iron, steel: $2.7 billion (Up by 99.9%)
- Fruits, nuts: $1.3 billion (Down by -19.5%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $1.1 billion (Down by -38.5%)
- Vegetables: $837 million (Up by 229%)
- Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $696.3 million (Down by -9.4%)
- Copper: $679 million (Up by 2484.2%)
- Textile floor coverings: $667.6 million (Down by -17.8%)
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.
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.
- Machinery including computers: -US$7.1 billion (Down by -13.2% since 2017)
- Cereals: -$4.3 billion (Up by 28%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$3.4 billion (Down by -25.6%)
- Oil seeds: -$1.5 billion (Up by 3%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$1.5 billion (Up by 6.6%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: -$1.4 billion (Down by -14.8%)
- Vehicles: -$1.4 billion (Down by -57.2%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: -$967.3 million (Down by -15.5%)
- Paper, paper items: -$732.4 million (Down by -24.8%)
- Meat: -$731.2 million (Up by 11.9%)
Iran has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for machinery including computers.
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)
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 July 17, 2019
International Trade Centre, Trade Map: Iran export data. Accessed on July 17, 2019
The World Factbook, Middle East: Iran, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on May 14, 2018
Trading Economics list of jobless rate by country. Accessed on May 14, 2018
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on July 17, 2019
Wikipedia, Iran. Accessed on May 14, 2018
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on July 17, 2019
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on May 14, 2018