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$6 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects a 19.4% increase since 2015 and a 20.3% uptick from 2018 to 2019.
The latest available country-specific data from 2018 shows that 90.8% of products exported from Nicaragua were bought by importers in: United States (61.1% of the global total), El Salvador (5.7%), Mexico (5.6%), Honduras (4.4%), Costa Rica (3.1%), Guatemala (2.6%), Taiwan (1.9%), United Kingdom (1.4%), Germany (1.4%), China (also 1.4%), Belgium (1.1%) and Spain (also 1.1%).
From a continental perspective, 67.5% of Nicaragua’s exports by value were delivered to North American countries while 18.3% were sold to importers in Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean. Nicaragua shipped another 8.3% worth of goods to European. Smaller percentages went to Asia (5.1%), Africa (0.5%) then Oceania led by Australia (0.3%).
Given Nicaragua’s population of 6.5 million people, its total $6 billion in 2019 exports translates to approximately $920 for every resident in the Central American nation.
Nicaragua’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Nicaraguan global shipments during 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Nicaragua.
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: US$1.5 billion (24.4% of total exports)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $648.9 million (10.8%)
- Gems, precious metals: $591.9 million (9.8%)
- Meat: $577.9 million (9.6%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $559.1 million (9.3%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $491.9 million (8.2%)
- Fish: $320.4 million (5.3%)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $240.4 million (4%)
- Dairy, eggs, honey: $195.1 million (3.2%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $146.7 million (2.4%)
Nicaragua’s top 10 exports accounted for 87% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Knitted or crocheted clothing and accessories were the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 46.5% from 2018 to 2019. In second place for improving export sales was gems and precious metals via a 42.5% gain powered by stronger international sales of gold. Nicaragua’s shipments of unknitted and non-crocheted clothing and accessories posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 36%.
The leading decliner among Nicaragua’s top 10 export categories was sugar and sugar confectionery thanks to a -24.8% drop 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 gold (9.3%) and insulated wire or cable (9.3%) trailed by knitted or crocheted jerseys and pullovers (8.6%), coffee (8.1%), unknitted and non-crocheted men’s suits and trousers (6%) then frozen beef (5%).
Overall Nicaragua garnered an estimated $917.1 million trade surplus for 2019, reversing the -$2.3 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$1.2 billion (Up by 105.4% since 2018)
- Gems, precious metals: $591.3 million (Up by 42.8%)
- Meat: $551.1 million (Up by 15.6%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $533.5 million (Up by 51.2%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $489.7 million (Up by 17.7%)
- Fish: $317.6 million (Up by 10.9%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $209.2 million (Reversing a -$60.5 million deficit)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $206.6 million (Up by 36%)
- Dairy, eggs, honey: $139.1 million (Up by 26.8%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $123.8 million (Down by -26.3%)
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$668.7 million (Down by -35.4% since 2018)
- Knit or crochet fabric: -$323.8 million (Down by -33.9%)
- Machinery including computers: -$282.1 million (Down by -31.2%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$247.8 million (Down by -18.8%)
- Cotton: -$182.2 million (Down by -7.6%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$165.7 million (Down by -54.1%)
- Cereals: -$150 million (Up by 19%)
- Paper, paper items: -$126.2 million (Down by -23.6%)
- Cereal/milk preparations: -$100.8 million (Down by -24.4%)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: -$92.2 million (Down by -15.9%)
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)
In macroeconomic terms, Nicaragua’s total exported goods represent 17.3% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($34.9 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 17.3% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2019 compares to 15.5% for 2018. Those metrics suggest a relatively increasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Nicaragua’s total economic performance albeit based on a short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Nicaragua’s average unemployment rate was 6.127% for 2019 up from 5.5% one year earlier, according to the International Monetary Fund.
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 and Top Milk Exporting Countries
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles. Accessed on June 2, 2020
Forbes 2016 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on June 2, 2020
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on June 2, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on June 2, 2020
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on June 2, 2020
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on June 2, 2020
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Nicaragua. Accessed on June 2, 2020
Wikipedia, Managua. Accessed on June 2, 2020
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on June 2, 2020
WorldOMeter, Nicaragua Population. Accessed on June 2, 2020