Comprised of two similarly sized land masses in Southeast Asia, namely Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia, Malaysia shipped US$238.1 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects an 18.9% gain since 2015 but a -3.7% dip from 2018 to 2019.
Malaysia’s exported goods totaled $105.8 billion during the first 6 months of 2020. Assuming an annualized $211.7 billion in exports for all 2020, Malaysia is on track for an estimated -11.1% drop in value for its shipments from 2019 to 2020.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2019, the Malaysian ringgit depreciated by -6.1% against the US dollar since 2015 and declined by -2.7% from 2018 to 2019. Malaysia’s weaker local currency makes its exports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively less expensive for international buyers.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 77.3% of products exported from Malaysia were bought by importers in: China (14.2% of the global total), Singapore (13.9%), United States (9.7%), Hong Kong (6.7%), Japan (6.6%), Thailand (5.7%), India (3.8%), Taiwan (3.7%), Vietnam (3.5%), South Korea (3.4%), Indonesia (3.1%) and Australia (2.9%).
From a continental perspective, 72.3% of Malaysia exports by value were delivered to Asian countries while 11% were sold to North American importers. Malaysia shipped another 10.4% worth of goods to Europe. Smaller percentages went to Oceania (3.6%) led by Australia and New Zealand, Africa (1.9%) then Latin America (0.8%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean.
Given Malaysia’s population of 32.8 million people, its total $238.1 billion in 2019 exports translates to roughly $7,300 for every resident in the Southeast Asian country.
Malaysia’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Malaysian global shipments during 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Malaysia.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$82 billion (34.4% of total exports)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $34.5 billion (14.5%)
- Machinery including computers: $21.8 billion (9.1%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $11.5 billion (4.8%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $10.1 billion (4.2%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $9.6 billion (4%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $7.1 billion (3%)
- Iron, steel: $4.4 billion (1.8%)
- Other chemical goods: $4.1 billion (1.7%)
- Organic chemicals: $4 billion (1.7%)
Malaysia’s top 10 exports accounted for almost four-fifths (79.4%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Iron and steel was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 36.1% from 2018 to 2019. In second place for improving export sales was optical, technical and medical apparatus via a 6.5% gain. The only other increase was for Malaysia’s shipments of plastics including plastic articles thanks due to a 2.3% increase.
The leading decliner among Malaysia’s top 10 export categories was organic chemicals thanks to a -17.8% drop year over year.
Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more granular view of exported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the section Searchable List of Malaysia’s Most Valuable Export Products further down near the bottom of this article.
Overall Malaysia posted a $33.2 billion surplus on goods traded during 2019, up 11.2% from $29.8 billion in black ink one year earlier.
The following types of Malaysian 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.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$26.1 billion (Up by 17.2% since 2018)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $9.8 billion (Down by -5.3%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $4.7 billion (Down by -34.3%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $4.4 billion (Up by 11.9%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $3.5 billion (Down by -7.2%)
- Wood: $2.2 billion (Down by -18%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefab buildings: $2 billion (Up by 22.7%)
- Machinery including computers: $1 billion (Down by -57.7%)
- Cereal/milk preparations: $683.1 million (Up by 1.1%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $663.7 million (Up by 8%)
Malaysia has highly positive net exports in the international trade of electronics including consumer electronic gadgets. In turn, these cashflows indicate Malaysia’s strong competitive advantages under the electrical machinery and equipment product category.
Below are exports from Malaysia that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Malaysia’s goods trail Malaysian importer spending on foreign products.
- Vehicles: -US$4.3 billion (Down by -1.3% since 2018)
- Iron, steel: -$2.2 billion (Down by -34.4%)
- Cereals: -$1.6 billion (Up by 0.1%)
- Inorganic chemicals: -$1.4 billion (Down by -11.2%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$1.34 billion (Up by 7.4%)
- Gems, precious metals: -$1.28 billion (Down by -33.3%)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$1.1 billion (Down by -1.4%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: -$969.5 million (Down by -47.5%)
- Paper, paper items: -$870.3 million (Down by -20.5%)
- Meat: -$837.3 million (Down by -7.3%)
Malaysia has highly negative net exports and therefore international trade deficits for automobile parts or accessories, cars, trucks, tractors and motorcycles.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Malaysia’s competitive disadvantages in the international vehicles market, but also represent key opportunities for Malaysia to improve its position in the global economy through focused innovations.
Malaysian Export Companies
Seventeen Malaysian corporations rank among Forbes Global 2000. Below is a sample of the major Malaysian companies that Forbes included.
- Axiata (communications equipment)
- IOI Group (food processing)
- MISC (shipping company)
- Petronas Chemicals (specialized chemicals)
- Petronas Dagangan (oil, gas)
- Sime Darby (rubber, industrial/energy products)
Wikipedia lists some other large international trade players for Malaysia:
- Hup Chong Furniture SDN BHD (bedroom furniture, beddings, miscellaneous wooden furniture)
- Ly Furniture SDN BHD (furniture, furniture parts)
- POS Malaysia Berhad (paper bags, envelopes)
- R1 International Malaysia SDN BHD (latex, transmission belts, natural rubber in smoked sheets)
Searchable List of Malaysia’s Most Valuable Export Products
At the more granular four-digit HTS code level, Malaysia’s most valuable exported products are electronic integrated circuits plus related parts followed by refined petroleum oil, petroleum gases and palm oil followed by solar power components then computers.
The following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from Malaysia during 2019. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2018.
|Rank||Malaysian Export Product||2019 Value (US$)||Change|
|2||Processed petroleum oils||$14,919,629,000||-8.1%|
|4||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$8,723,583,000||-0.6%|
|7||Computers, optical readers||$6,620,659,000||-29.3%|
|8||Unrecorded sound media||$4,250,574,000||-5.3%|
|9||Clothing, accessories (vulcanized rubber)||$4,196,986,000||-4.7%|
|10||Phone system devices including smartphones||$4,055,316,000||+10.5%|
|11||Oscilloscopes, spectrum analyzers||$3,795,320,000||+7.4%|
|14||Computer parts, accessories||$2,079,198,000||-22.2%|
|19||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$1,875,317,000||+7.7%|
|21||Industrial fatty acids and alcohols||$1,826,912,000||-17.5%|
|23||Animal/vegetable hydrogenated fats, oils||$1,496,960,000||-9.6%|
|25||Electric water heaters, hair dryers||$1,406,133,000||+16.3%|
|26||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$1,351,655,000||-13.7%|
|28||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$1,324,888,000||+22.1%|
|32||Electric storage batteries||$1,140,625,000||+12.2%|
|37||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$1,057,262,000||-4%|
|38||Copper powders, flakes||$1,048,279,000||+67.1%|
|39||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$1,047,356,000||+0.2%|
|40||Iron ores, concentrates||$979,002,000||+14.2%|
|41||Machinery for making semi-conductors||$942,624,000||-9.6%|
|46||Iron or non-alloy steel products (semi-finished)||$877,491,000||+730.9%|
|47||Electrical converters/power units||$871,256,000||+6.3%|
|48||TV/radio/radar device parts||$861,533,000||-18.1%|
|50||Laminated wood (including plywood, veneer panels)||$822,175,000||-27.5%|
|53||Miscellaneous aluminum items||$786,150,000||+36.8%|
|54||Miscellaneous plastic items||$766,735,000||+11.4%|
|56||Saturated acyclic mono acids||$754,379,000||-24.5%|
|59||Other measuring/testing machines||$702,455,000||+13%|
|60||Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries||$697,512,000||-5.3%|
|62||Other food preparations||$680,843,000||+4.7%|
|63||Chemical industry products/residuals||$674,369,000||+7%|
|66||Petroleum oil residues||$638,388,000||+55.2%|
|67||Flour/meal/starch/malt extract food preparations||$615,914,000||+9.4%|
|68||Cocoa butter, fat, oil||$612,971,000||+56.9%|
|70||Air or vacuum pumps||$582,296,000||-4.6%|
|71||Flat-rolled stainless steel items||$573,195,000||-4.5%|
|73||Coiled iron or non-alloy steel bars, rods||$569,965,000||+748.1%|
|74||Organic surface-active products, soap||$564,144,000||-6%|
|75||Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)||$553,660,000||+8%|
|76||Coffee/tea extracts, concentrates||$522,678,000||-3.8%|
|77||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$521,220,000||-3.4%|
|78||Concrete/artificial stone items||$504,487,000||+41.5%|
|79||Coal tar oils (high temperature distillation)||$475,058,000||-38.5%|
|81||Miscellaneous iron and steel structures||$452,644,000||+18.2%|
|87||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$426,234,000||+3.5%|
|89||Asphalt/petroleum bitumen mixes||$412,063,000||+0.4%|
|90||Miscellaneous iron or steel items||$407,117,000||+21.7%|
|91||Chemicals used in electronics||$404,674,000||+1%|
|95||Liquid/gas checking instruments||$367,678,000||-5.7%|
|96||Precious metal waste, scrap||$364,696,000||-45.3%|
|99||Rubber tires (new)||$335,611,000||+7.5%|
|100||Other organic cleaning preparations||$323,212,000||+2.5%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$195.7 billion or 82.2% by value for all products exported from Malaysia during 2019.
In macroeconomic terms, Malaysia’s total exported goods represent 22.1% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 (1.079 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 22.1% for exports to overall GDP per PPP in 2019 compares to 24.7% one year earlier. This seems to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Malaysia’s total economic performance, albeit based on a very short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Malaysia’s average unemployment rate was 3.425% for 2019 up from 3.325% one year earlier, according to the International Monetary Fund.
See also Malaysia’s Top 10 Imports, Malaysia’s Top Trading Partners and Malaysia’s Top 10 Major Export Companies
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, Country Profiles. Accessed on October 4, 2020
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on October 4, 2020
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on October 4, 2020
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Databases (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on October 4, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on October 4, 2020
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on October 4, 2020
Richest Country Reports, Key Statistics Powering Global Wealth. Accessed on December 17, 2019
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on October 4, 2020
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Malaysia. Accessed on October 4, 2020
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on October 4, 2020