Located on the equator and along Africa’s eastern coast, the Republic of Kenya exported an estimated US$5.1 billion worth of products around the globe in 2018. That dollar amount reflects a -16.9% decrease since 2014 and an -11.6% dip from 2017 to 2018.
2017 data shows that over two-thirds (67.6%) of products exported from Kenya were bought by importers in: Pakistan (10.8% of its global total), Uganda (10.4%), United States (8%), Netherlands (7.4%), United Kingdom (6.5%), Tanzania (4.8%), United Arab Emirates (4.4%), Somalia (3.3%), Egypt (3.2%), Democratic Republic of the Congo (3.2%), Rwanda (2.9%) and South Sudan (2.8%).
From a continental perspective, 33.7% of Kenyan exports by value were delivered to fellow African countries while 28.4% were sold to European importers. Kenya shipped another 23.7% worth of goods to Europe with 8.9% arriving in North America. Smaller percentages were sent to Oceania led by Australia (0.4%) and Latin America (0.3%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean.
Given Kenya’s population of 48.4 million people, its total $5.1 billion in 2018 exported goods translates to roughly $110 for every resident in the East African country.
Kenya’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Kenyan global shipments during 2018. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Kenya.
- Coffee, tea, spices: US$1.4 billion (27.4% of total exports)
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $817.1 million (16.1%)
- Vegetables: $269.1 million (5.3%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $260.8 million (5.1%)
- Fruits, nuts: $246.8 million (4.9%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $194.9 million (3.8%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $172.5 million (3.4%)
- Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $121.5 million (2.4%)
- Gems, precious metals: $81.5 million (1.6%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $79.7 million (1.6%)
Kenya ’s top 10 exports accounted for 71.5% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Gems, precious metals: was the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up by 332.8% year over year since 2017 propelled by superior international sales of gold, precious stones and precious metal scrap.
In second place for improving export sales was knitted or crocheted clothing and accessories which rose 40%.
Kenya ‘s shipments of live trees, plants and cut flowers posted the third-fastest gain in value, improving 37.2% year over year.
The leading decliner among Kenya’s top 10 export categories was pharmaceuticals thanks to its -35.8% drop.
From the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, tea including flavored varieties represent Kenya ’s most valuable exported product at 22.2% of the country’s total. In second place was fresh or dried flowers for bouquets or general ornamental (14.8%) trailed by coffee (5.1%), fresh or chilled leguminous vegetables (3.1%), titanium ores and concentrates (2.6%), unknit and non-crocheted men’s suits or trousers (also 2.6%), dates, figs, pineapples, mangoes, avocadoes and guavas (2.4%), miscellaneous nuts (also 2.4%), unknit and non-crocheted women’s clothing (1.5%) then medication mixes in dosage (1.4%).
The following types of Kenyan 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.
- Coffee, tea, spices: US$1.3 billion (Down by -22.3% since 2017)
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $811.2 million (Up by 37.6%)
- Fruits, nuts: $210.8 million (Up by 39.3%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $188 million (Up by 13.6%)
- Vegetables: $167.4 million (Up by 89.4%)
- Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $96 million (Up by 5.8%)
- Raw hides, skins not furskins, leather: $77.5 million (Up by 76.3%)
- Gems, precious metals: $75.8 million (Reversing a -$11.9 million deficit)
- Fish: $27 million (Down by -903.6%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $24.8 million (Down by -76.9%)
Kenya has highly positive net exports in the international trade of tea and, to a lesser extent, coffee. In turn, these cashflows indicate Kenya’s strong competitive advantages under the coffee, tea and spices product category.
Overall Kenya incurred a -$10.8 billion trade deficit for 2018, down by -1.7% from -$10.9 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Kenya that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Kenya’s goods trail Kenyan importer spending on foreign products.
- Machinery including computers: US-$1.7 billion (Down by -5% since 2017)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$1.3 billion (Up by 21.3%)
- Vehicles: -$1.2 billion (Up by 14.5%)
- Cereals: -$831.2 million (Down by -22.8%)
- Iron, steel: -$816.2 million (Up by 30%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: -$790.1 million (Down by -66.9%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$637 million (Up by 17%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$434 million (Up by 10.1%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$389.8 million (Up by 42.6%)
- Paper, paper items: -$388.7 million (Up by 42.8%)
Kenya has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for machinery particularly turbo-jets and computers.
Kenyan Export Companies
According to MarcoPolis.net rankings, the following are the top 10 Kenyan companies. Six of these companies are banks, which can support Kenya’s international trade projects.
- Safaricom (telecommunications)
- East African Breweries (beverages)
- Equity Banking (banking)
- Kenya Commercial Bank (banking)
- British American Tobacco (tobacco)
- Standard Chartered Bank (banking)
- Co-operative Bank of Kenya (banking)
- Lafarge-Bamburi Cement (cement)
- Barclays Bank (banking)
- Diamond Trust Bank (banking)
Wikipedia also lists exporters from Kenya. Selected examples are shown below:
- Cooper Motor Corporation (automobiles)
- Kakuzi Limited (coffee, tea, fruits)
- KenolKobil (petroleum)
- Sasini (tea, coffee)
- Total Kenya (petroleum)
In macroeconomic terms, Kenya’s total exported goods represent 2.9% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2018 ($177.3 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 2.9% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2018 compares to 3.8% for 2014, seeming to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Kenya’s total economic performance. And while this article focuses on exported goods, it is interesting to note that Kenya also provided $5.3 billion worth of exports-related services to global customers for an additional 3% of GDP in PPP.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Kenya’s unemployment rate was a projected 9.1% at December 2019, as calculated by Trading Economics.
Kenya’s capital city is Nairobi, nicknamed the “Safari Capital of the World” and the “Green City in the Sun”.
See also Top African Export Countries, Coffee Exports by Country and Tea Imports by Country
Forbes 2018 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on April 24, 2019
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on July 3, 2019
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on July 3, 2019
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on April 24, 2019
MarcoPolis.net, Top 10 Companies in Kenya, Kenya Report. Accessed on April 24, 2019
The World Factbook, Africa: Zimbabwe. Accessed on April 24, 2019
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on July 3, 2019
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Kenya. Accessed on April 24, 2019
Wikipedia, Kenya. Accessed on April 24, 2019
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on July 3, 2019