Located in Southeast Asia near powerful trade partners including Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines, Malaysia imported US$189.8 billion worth of goods from around the globe in 2020. That dollar amount reflects a 12.4% increase since 2016 but a -7.4% downtick from 2019 to 2020.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2020, the Malaysian ringgit depreciated by -1.3% against the US dollar since 2016 and declined by -1.5% from 2019 to 2020. Malaysia’s weaker local currency made its imports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively more expensive when converted starting from Malaysian ringgits.
Malaysian imports represent 1% of total global imports which totaled $19.085 trillion estimated for one year prior.
From a continental perspective, almost three-quarters (74.2%) of Malaysia’s total imports by value in 2020 were purchased from fellow Asian countries. European trade partners furnished another 9.7% of imports bought by Malaysia while 9.3% worth originated from North America. Smaller percentages came from suppliers in Oceania (3%) led by Australia and New Zealand, Latin America (2.3%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean, then Africa (1.5%).
Given Malaysia ‘s population of 33 million people, its total $189.8 billion in 2020 imports translates to roughly $5,800 in yearly product demand from every person in the Southeast Asian country.
Malaysia’s Top 10 Imports
The following product groups represent the highest dollar value in Malaysia’s import purchases during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each product category represents in terms of overall imports into Malaysia.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$57.3 billion (30.2% of total imports)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $22.7 billion (11.9%)
- Machinery including computers: $17.9 billion (9.4%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $7.8 billion (4.1%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $5.4 billion (2.8%)
- Iron, steel: $5 billion (2.6%)
- Aluminum: $4.8 billion (2.5%)
- Vehicles: $4.5 billion (2.4%)
- Gems, precious metals: $3.8 billion (2%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $3.6 billion (1.9%)
Malaysia’s top 10 imports accounted for 70% of the overall value of its product purchases from other countries.
Malaysia’s imports of aluminum posted the fastest-growing increase in value among the top 10 import categories, up 32.9% in cost from 2019 to 2020. In second place was the electrical machinery and equipment category which expanded 2.6%. The other top product category to accelerate in terms of Malaysian purchases was rubber including articles made from rubber via a 0.8% increase.
Leading the decliners year over year were vehicles (down -30.3%), iron and steel (down -24.2%) then mineral fuels including oil (down -24%).
Please note that the results listed above are at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level. Information presented under other virtual folder tabs is at the more granular 4-digit level.
In 2020, Malaysian importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of electrical products including consumer electronics.
- Integrated circuits/microassemblies: US$33.4 billion (up 4.6% from 2019)
- Phone system devices: $3.9 billion (down -3.1%)
- Solar power diodes/semi-conductors: $3.3 billion (up 7.9%)
- Printed circuits: $2.6 billion (up 18.7%)
- Lower-voltage switches, fuses: $1.7 billion (down -13%)
- Electrical converters/power units: $1.3 billion (up 3.9%)
- TV/radio/radar device parts: $1.1 billion (up 19.9%)
- Unrecorded sound media: $1.1 billion (up 16.1%)
- Electrical capacitators: $1 billion (up 10.6%)
- Electric motors, generators: $925.4 million (down -1.7%)
Among these import subcategories, Malaysian purchases of television, radio and radar device parts (up 19.9%), printed circuits (up 18.7%) then unrecorded sound media (up 16.1%) grew at the fastest pace from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported electronics among Malaysian businesses and consumers.
In 2020, Malaysian importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of mineral fuels-related products.
- Processed petroleum oils: US$13.4 billion (down -23.5% from 2019)
- Crude oil: $4.6 billion (down -28.7%)
- Coal, solid fuels made from coal: $2.3 billion (down -21.2%)
- Petroleum gases: $1.5 billion (down -9.8%)
- Petroleum oil residues: $359.8 million (down -29.9%)
- Coke, semi-coke: $284.8 million (down -29.2%)
- Coal tar oils (high temperature distillation): $121.3 million (down -52.4%)
- Petroleum jelly, mineral waxes: $31 million (down -28.1%)
- Asphalt/petroleum bitumen mixes: $22 million (up 43.1%)
- Natural bitumen, asphalt, shale: $13.1 million (up 55.9%)
Among these import subcategories, Malaysian purchases of natural bitumen, asphalt and shale (up 55.9%) and asphalt plus petroleum bitumen mixes (up 43.1%) grew from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported fossil fuel-related products among Malaysian businesses and consumers.
In 2020, Malaysian importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of machinery including computers.
- Computers, optical readers: US$2.5 billion (down -8.3% from 2019)
- Computer parts, accessories: $1.7 billion (down -12.9%)
- Miscellaneous machinery: $1.3 billion (down -4.8%)
- Machinery for making semi-conductors: $978 million (down -14.9%)
- Centrifuges, filters and purifiers: $817.2 million (down -8.7%)
- Turbo-jets: $802.2 million (down -23.1%)
- Printing machinery: $794.9 million (down -14%)
- Taps, valves, similar appliances: $773.5 million (down -12.1%)
- Air or vacuum pumps: $630.2 million (down -16.9%)
- Machinery parts: $532.6 million (down -16.6%)
Among these import subcategories, Malaysian purchases of miscellaneous machinery (down -4.8%), computers including optical readers (down -8.3%) then centrifuges, filters and purifiers (down -8.7%) shrank at the slowest pace from 2019 to 2020.
In 2020, Malaysian importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of plastics.
- Ethylene polymers: US$1.7 billion (down -27.6% from 2019)
- Polyacetal/ether/carbonates: $797.3 million (down -17.6%)
- Propylene/olefin polymers: $797.2 million (down -1.6%)
- Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips: $765.9 million (down -1.6%)
- Miscellaneous plastic items: $731.9 million (down -3.6%)
- Styrene polymers: $407.4 million (down -0.6%)
- Plastic packing goods, lids, caps: $367.6 million (down -0.04%)
- Self-adhesive plastic in rolls: $312 million (up 0.3%)
- Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips: $268.9 million (down -13.8%)
- Vinyl chloride polymers: $215.2 million (down -15.3%)
Among these import subcategories, Malaysian purchases of self-adhesive plastic in rolls (up 0.3%) was the sole gainer from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported plastics among Malaysian businesses and consumers.
See also Malaysia’s Top Trading Partners, Malaysia’s Top 10 Exports, Top Asian Export Countries and Malaysia’s Top 10 Major Export Companies
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, Country Profiles. Accessed on February 24, 2021
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on February 24, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Databases (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on February 24, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on February 24, 2021