A small sovereign country located a few degrees south of the Equator in central eastern Africa, the Republic of Rwanda shipped an estimated US$1 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2018. That dollar amount reflects a 53.7% increase since 2014 and a 65% uptick from 2017 to 2018.
In addition, Rwanda furnished an estimated $1.1 billion worth of international services during 2018 encompassing about $797.6 million from commercial services.
Based on estimates from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, Rwanda’s exported goods plus services represent 18.2% of total Rwandan economic output or Gross Domestic Product in 2017. Please note that the overall value of exported goods and services includes re-exports. The analysis below focuses on exported products only.
The latest available country-specific data from 2016 shows that 92% of products exported from Rwanda were bought by importers in: Democratic Republic Congo (31.8% of the global total), Kenya (16%), United Arab Emirates (14%), Switzerland (8.8%), Burundi (5.8%), Singapore (3.2%), United States (3%), Belgium (2.9%), Uganda (2.4%), Hong Kong (1.9%), Malaysia (1.2%) and the United Kingdom (1%).
Given Rwanda’s population of 12.2 million people, its total $1 billion in 2018 exports translates to roughly $80 for every resident in the Central African nation.
Rwanda’s unemployment rate was forecasted to be 15% at September 2019 by Trading Economics.
Rwanda’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Rwandan global shipments during 2018, 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.
- Gems, precious metals: US$638.8 million (63.6% of total exports)
- Ores, slag, ash: $158.9 million (15.8%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $125.6 million (12.5%)
- Raw hides, skins not furskins, leather: $8.6 million (0.9%)
- Lead: $5.6 million (0.6%)
- Vegetables: $4.8 million (0.5%)
- Machinery including computers: $4.6 million (0.5%)
- Cereals: $3.8 million (0.4%)
- Gums, resins, other vegetable saps: $3.7 million (0.4%)
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $3.7 million (0.4%)
Rwanda’s top 10 exports accounted for 95.4% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Cereals was the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up by 456.3% since 2017, propelled by improving international sales of wheat.
In second place for improving export sales was machinery including computers thanks to a 151.2% gain.
Rwanda’s shipments of lead posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 123.8% year over year.
The sole decliner among Rwanda’s top 10 export categories was raw hides and skins excluding furskins but including leather which fell -14.6%.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, gold (unwrought): represent Rwanda’s most valuable exported product at 63.4% of the country’s total. In second place was niobium and zirconium ores or concentrates (7.7%) trailed by coffee (6.9%), tin ores or concentrates: (6.1%), tea (5.6%), tungsten ores or concentrates (0.9%), lead (0.6%), miscellaneous rawhides and skins (0.5%), wheat: (0.4%) then vegetable saps and extracts (also 0.4%).
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.
- Gems, precious metals: US$636.7 million (Up by 104.6% since 2017)
- Ores, slag, ash: $158.9 million (Up by 32.4%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $124.6 million (Up by 11.5%)
- Raw hides, skins not furskins, leather: $8 million (Down by -15.7%)
- Lead: $4 million (Up by 82.7%)
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $3.5 million (Up by 66%)
- Gums, resins, other vegetable saps: $3.2 million (Up by 139.3%)
- Leather/animal gut articles: $1.2 million (Up by 38.2%)
- Plaiting products, basketware.wickerwork: $697,000 (Up by 6.4%)
- Fruits, nuts: $460,000 (Down by -180.7%)
Rwanda has highly positive net exports in the international trade of gold and, to lesser extent, precious stones. In turn, these cashflows indicate Rwanda’s strong competitive advantages under the gems and precious metals product category.
Overall Rwanda incurred an estimated -$443.4 million trade deficit for 2018, down -36.7% from 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$206.1 million (Up by 28.6% since 2017)
- Machinery including computers: -$155.5 million (Up by 42.8%)
- Vehicles: -$93.8 million (Down by -9.3%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$78.3 million (Down by -22.5%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$54.9 million (Up by 34.2%)
- Cereals: -$54.2 million (Down by -4.6%)
- Iron, steel: -$52.5 million (Up by 43.9%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: -$49 million (Up by 31.4%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: -$47.0 million (Down by -49.4%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: -$46.9 million (Up by 147.3%)
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)
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 September 11, 2019
Forbes, Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on September 11, 2019
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Databases (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on September 11, 2019
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on September 11, 2019
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on September 11, 2019
Wikipedia, Flag of Rwanda. Accessed on September 11, 2019
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Rwanda. Accessed on September 11, 2019
Wikipedia, Rwanda. Accessed on September 11, 2019
World’s Capital Cities, Capital Facts for Kigali, Rwanda. Accessed on September 11, 2019