The biggest country found on the Central American isthmus separating the Caribbean Sea from the Pacific Ocean, the Republic of Nicaragua shipped an estimated US$5.5 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2018. That dollar amount reflects an 11.4% increase since 2014 and a 12.5% uptick from 2017 to 2018.
The latest available country-specific data from 2017 shows that 89.9% of products exported from Nicaragua were bought by importers in: United States (58.6% of the global total), Mexico (6.6%), El Salvador (5.6%), Honduras (3.5%), Costa Rica (3.1%), Taiwan (2.5%), Venezuela (2.4%), Guatemala (2.2%), United Kingdom (1.6%), Germany (1.5%), Spain (1.1%) and Belgium (1.1%).
From a continental perspective, 66.3% of Nicaragua exports by value were delivered to North American countries while 19.2% were sold to importers in Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean. Nicaragua shipped another 8.7% worth of goods to Europe. Smaller percentages went to Asia (4.9%), Africa (0.7%) then Oceania (0.3%) led by Australia.
Given Nicaragua’s population of 6.1 million people, its total $5.5 billion in 2018 exports translates to approximately $900 for every resident in the Central American nation.
In macroeconomic terms, Nicaragua’s total exported goods represent 15.5% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2018 ($35.7 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 15.5% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2018 compares to 18.2% for 2014, seeming to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Nicaragua’s total economic performance. And while this article focuses on exported goods, it is interesting to note that Nicaragua also provided $1.3 billion worth of exports-related services to global customers for an additional 3.8% of GDP in PPP.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Nicaragua’s unemployment rate was 6.2% at September 2018 up from 3.6% one year earlier, according to Trading Economics.
Nicaragua’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Nicaraguan global shipments during 2018. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Nicaragua.
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: US$1.3 billion (24.1% of total exports)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $685.4 million (12.4%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $515 million (9.3%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $472.1 million (8.5%)
- Gems, precious metals: $443.7 million (8%)
- Meat: $442.5 million (8%)
- Fish: $325.9 million (5.9%)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $232.7 million (4.2%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $176.8 million (3.2%)
- Dairy, eggs, honey: $140 million (2.5%)
Nicaragua’s top 10 exports account for 86.1% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Knitted or crocheted clothing and accessories were the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up by 63% since 2017.
In second place for improving export sales was the gems and precious metals, thanks to a 24.8% increase propelled by higher international sales of gold.
Nicaragua’s shipments of fish posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 19.1%.
The leading decliner among the top 10 Nicaragua export categories was the dairy, eggs and honey category which fell -20.6% year over year.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, knitted or crocheted t-shirts and vests represent Nicaragua’s most valuable exported product at 12.5% of the country’s total. In second place was insulated wire or cable (11.8%) trailed by coffee (8.5%), knitted or crocheted jerseys and pullovers (7.9%), unwrought gold (7.4%), unknitted and non-crocheted men’s suits and trousers (6%), crustaceans including lobsters (4.5%), frozen beef (4.3%), cigars and cigarettes (4.2%) then fresh or chilled beef (3.4%).
Overall Nicaragua garnered an estimated $858.7 million trade surplus for 2018, reversing the -$2.8 billion in red ink one year earlier.
The following types of Nicaraguan 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.
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: US$1.1 billion (Up by 130.5% since 2017)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $500.3 million (Up by 18.6%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $470.1 million (Down by -7.4%)
- Gems, precious metals: $442.5 million (Up by 25.3%)
- Meat: $420 million (Down by -16.4%)
- Fish: $323.3 million (Up by 20%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $231.6 million (Reversing a -$170.9 million deficit)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $192.3 million (Up by 48.5%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $155.5 million (Down by -8.4%)
- Oil seeds: $122.6 million (Up by 7.8%)
Nicaragua has highly positive net exports in the international trade of apparel. In turn, these cashflows indicate Nicaragua’s strong competitive advantages under both the knit or unknit and crochet or non-crochet clothing and accessories categories.
Below are exports from Nicaragua that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Nicaragua’s goods trail Nicaraguan importer spending on foreign products.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$550.1 million (Down by -16.3% since 2017)
- Machinery including computers: -$307.1 million (Down by -39.3%)
- Knit or crochet fabric: -$275.8 million (Down by -34.9%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$204.2 million (Down by -40.8%)
- Vehicles: -$181.8 million (Down by -59.7%)
- Cotton: -$164.4 million (Up by 5.2%)
- Paper, paper items: -$115.9 million (Down by -37.9%)
- Cereals: -$115.7 million (Down by -1.2%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$115.3 million (Down by -74.2%)
- Cereal/milk preparations: -$90.4 million (Down by -32.4%)
Nicaragua has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the mineral fuels including oil category, notably due to red ink recorded for both crude and refined petroleum oils as well as petroleum gases.
Nicaraguan Export Companies
Not one Nicaraguan corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000.
Wikipedia lists exports-related companies from Nicaragua. Selected examples are shown below:
- Compañía Cervecera de Nicaragua (brewery)
- ECAMI (alternative energy)
- El Castillo del Cacao (chocolate)
- Flor de Caña (rum)
- Gelateria Italiana (ice cream)
- Joya de Nicaragua (cigars)
- Kola Shaler Industrial (soft drinks)
Nicaragua’s capital city is Managua, a word that can mean either “adjacent to the water” or “place of the chief”.
See also Sugar Exports by Country, Top Milk Exporting Countries and Capital Facts for Managua, Nicaragua
Forbes 2016 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on June 25, 2018
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on July 10, 2019
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on June 25, 2018
The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on June 25, 2018
Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on July 10, 2019
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on July 10, 2019
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Nicaragua. Accessed on June 25, 2018
Wikipedia, Managua. Accessed on June 25, 2018
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on July 10, 2019