A small sovereign country located a few degrees south of the Equator in central eastern Africa, the Republic of Rwanda shipped an estimated US$299.1 million worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects a -45.5% decrease since 2015 and a -70.6% downtick from 2018 to 2019.
The latest available country-specific data from 2018 shows that 84.6% of products exported from Rwanda were bought by importers in: Democratic Republic of Congo (33.2% of the global total), United Arab Emirates (15.2%), Switzerland (6.5%), Uganda (5%), Pakistan (4%), United Kingdom (also 4%), Kazakhstan (3.9%), Singapore (also 3.9%), United States (2.6%), Canada (2.3%), Burundi (2.2%) and Belgium (1.8%).
Given Rwanda’s population of 12.4 million people, its total $299.1 million in 2019 exports translates to roughly $25 for every resident in the Central African nation.
Rwanda’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Rwandan global shipments during 2019, at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Rwanda.
- Coffee, tea, spices: US$123.4 million (41.2% of total exports)
- Ores, slag, ash: $107.7 million (36%)
- Vegetables: $7.9 million (2.7%)
- Gums, resins, other vegetable saps: $5.2 million (1.7%)
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $4.6 million (1.5%)
- Machinery including computers: $4.5 million (1.5%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $3.2 million (1.1%)
- Lead: $3.1 million (1%)
- Raw hides, skins not furskins, leather: $3 million (1%)
- Cereal/milk preparations: $2.9 million (1%)
Rwanda’s top 10 exports accounted for 88.8% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Only 2 of the top export categories increased in value from 2018 to 2019 namely gums, resins and other vegetable saps (up 131.1%) and live trees, plants plus cut flowers (up 18.3%).
Leading the decliners among Rwanda’s top 10 export categories were mineral fuels including oil thanks to its -97.8% drop, weighed down by falling international revenues for crude oil.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, coffee represents Rwanda’s most valuable exported product at 23.5% of the country’s total. In second place was niobium and zirconium ores or concentrates (18.2%) trailed by tea (17.7%), tin ores or concentrates: (14.1%), vegetable saps and extracts (1.7%), leguminous vegetables (also 1.7%), fresh or dried flowers for bouquets or ornamental purposes (1.5%), refined petroleum oils (1.1%), computer parts or accessories (1.1%) then unwrought lead (1%).
The following types of Rwandan 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$122.7 million (Down by -27.4% since 2018)
- Ores, slag, ash: $107.7 million (Down by -24.8%)
- Vegetables: $7.9 million (Reversing a -$480,000 deficit)
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $4.4 million (Up by 21.7%)
- Gums, resins, other vegetable saps: $4.1 million (Up by 191.4%)
- Raw hides, skins not furskins, leather: $2.4 million (Down by -70.2%)
- Lead: $1.4 million (Down by -58.6%)
- Zinc: $1.3 million (Reversing a -$54,000 deficit)
- Plaiting products, basketware.wickerwork: $1.2 million (Up by 4,664%)
- Gems, precious metals: $971,000 (Down by -99.5%)
Rwanda has highly positive net exports in the international trade of coffee and tea. In turn, these cashflows indicate Rwanda’s strong competitive advantages under the coffee, tea and spices product category.
Overall Rwanda incurred an estimated -$838.5 million trade deficit for 2019, down by -57.1% from -$1.95 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Rwanda that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Rwanda’s goods trail Rwandan importer spending on foreign products.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -US$172 million (Down by -39% since 2018)
- Machinery including computers: -$124.4 million (Down by -49.6%)
- Vehicles: -$80.3 million (Down by -51.1%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$78.9 million (Down by -9.8%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$43.7 million (Down by -38.9%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: -$37.6 million (Down by -27.4%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$34.7 million (Down by -54.7%)
- Cereals: -$31.8 million (Down by -77.8%)
- Iron, steel: -$29.8 million (Down by -69%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: -$28.9 million (Down by -54.9%)
Rwanda has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the electrical machinery and equipment category.
Rwandan Export Companies
Not one Rwandan corporation ranks on the Forbes Global 2000 list.
Wikipedia lists companies from Rwanda that are involved in export-related activities. Selected examples are shown below.
- Access Bank Rwanda (commercial bank)
- Bralirwa Brewery (beer, soft drinks)
- Great Lakes Energy (electricity)
- Rwanda Development Bank (financing institution)
- Terracom (mobile telecommunications)
In macroeconomic terms, Rwanda’s total exported goods represent an estimated 1% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($27.7 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 1% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2019 compares to roughly 0.4% for 2018. Those metrics suggest a relatively increasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Rwanda’s total economic performance albeit based on very short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Rwanda’s unemployment rate was 15.4% at December 2019, down from 16% at January 2018 according to Trading Economics.
Rwanda’s capital city is Kigali.
See also South Sudan’s Top 10 Exports, Somalia’s Top 10 Exports and Top African Export Countries
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles. Accessed on July 28, 2020
Forbes, Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on July 28, 2020
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Databases (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on July 28, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on July 28, 2020
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on July 28, 2020
Wikipedia, Flag of Rwanda. Accessed on July 28, 2020
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Rwanda. Accessed on July 28, 2020
Wikipedia, Rwanda. Accessed on July 28, 2020
World’s Capital Cities, Capital Facts for Kigali, Rwanda. Accessed on July 28, 2020