A West African nation that shares its southwestern coastline with the Atlantic Ocean, the Republic of Sierra Leone shipped an estimated US$676.7 million worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects an 83% increase since 2015 and a 230.1% uptick from 2018 to 2019.
The latest available country-specific data from 2018 shows that 90.5% of products exported from Sierra Leone were bought by importers in: China (18.3% of the global total), South Korea (14%), Netherlands (13.5%), Somalia (10.8%), Ghana (8%), Romania (7.8%), Germany (5.3%), Guinea (4.5%), Senegal (3%), Ivory Coast (1.9%), Belgium (1.8%) and India (1.6%).
From a continental perspective, 34.8% of Sierra Leone’s exports by value in 2018 were delivered to fellow African countries while 34.5% were sold to importers in Asia. Sierra Leone shipped another 30.1% worth of goods to Europe. Tinier percentages went to North America (0.5%), Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.08%) then Oceania Australia only (0.02%).
Given Sierra Leone’s population of 7.7 million people, its total $676.7 million in 2019 exports translates to roughly $90 for every resident in the West African nation.
Sierra Leone’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups categorize the highest dollar value in Sierra Leonean 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 Sierra Leone.
- Ores, slag, ash: US$342.2 million (50.6% of total exports)
- Wood: $129.8 million (19.2%)
- Gems, precious metals: $75 million (11.1%)
- Cocoa: $36 million (5.3%)
- Machinery including computers: $15 million (2.2%)
- Fish: $14 million (2.1%)
- Iron, steel: $9.1 million (1.3%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $8.4 million (1.2%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $5.8 million (0.9%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $4.7 million (0.7%)
Sierra Leone’s top 10 exports account for 94.6% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Ores, slag and ash represents the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 965% from 2018 to 2019 propelled by higher international sales of titanium and aluminum ores and concentrates. In second place for improving export sales was wood via a 540.2% gain. Sierra Leone’s shipments of coffee, tea and spices posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 199.4%.
The leading decliner among Sierra Leone’s top 10 export categories was fish thanks to its -66.6% drop year over year.
Drilling down to 4-digit HTS codes, Sierra Leone’s most valuable exported goods in 2019 were: titanium ores and concentrates (29.8%), rough woods (19.1%), aluminum ores and concentrates (12.7%), unfinished diamonds (10.8%), coco beans (5.3%), niobium or zirconium ores and concentrates (4%), iron ores and concentrates (3%) then frozen whole fish (1.9%).
The following types of Sierra Leonean 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.
- Ores, slag, ash: US$342.2 million (Up by 965.1% since 2018)
- Wood: $124.9 million (Up by 653.2%)
- Gems, precious metals: $73.6 million (Reversing a -$65,000 deficit)
- Cocoa: $34.4 million (Up by 58.2%)
- Fish: $14 million (Down by -62%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $3.3 million (Up by 525.1%)
- Copper: $3 million (Reversing a -$572,000 deficit)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $1.3 million (Reversing a -$3.1 million deficit)
- Oil seeds: $283,000 (Down by -89.6%)
- Collector items, art, antiques: $61,000 (Reversing a -$13,000 deficit)
Sierra Leone has highly positive net exports in the international trade of ores and concentrates including titanium, aluminum and iron. In turn, these cashflows indicate Sierra Leone’s strong competitive advantages under the ores, slag and ash product category.
Overall, Sierra Leone incurred an estimated -$339.6 million trade deficit for 2019 down by -56.7% from -$783.8 million in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Sierra Leone that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Sierra Leone’s goods trail Sierra Leonean importer spending on foreign products.
- Cereals: -US$101.3 million (Down by -34% since 2018)
- Machinery including computers: -$84.6 million (Down by -14.9%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$84.2 million (Up by 44.4%)
- Vehicles: -$62.9 million (Down by -13.5%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$51.8 million (Down by -7.7%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$45.6 million (Down by -4%)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: -$40 million (Up by 156.4%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$39.1 million (Up by 61.6%)
- Ships, boats: -$29.7 million (Up by 600.5%)
- Iron, steel: -$28.7 million (Down by -8.7%)
Weighed down by declining revenues for imported rice and to a lesser extent corn, barley and wheat, Sierra Leone has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the cereals category.
Sierra Leonean Export Companies
Not one Sierra Leonean corporation ranks among the Forbes Global 2000 list.
Wikipedia lists companies from Sierra Leone that participate in international trade transactions. Selected examples are shown below.
- Fly 6ix (airliner)
- Rokel Commercial Bank (commercial banking)
- Sierra Leone Brewery Limited (alcoholic beverages)
- Sierra Leone Commercial Bank (commercial banking)
- Union Trust Bank (commercial banking)
In macroeconomic terms, Sierra Leone’s total exported goods represent 5.2% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($13.1 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 5.2% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2019 compares to 3.1% for 2018. Those metrics suggest a relatively increasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Sierra Leone’s total economic performance albeit based on a relatively short timeframe.
Another key indicator of economic performance is the unemployment rate. Sierra Leone’s average unemployment rate was 4.3% in 2019 same as one year earlier, according to Trading Economics.
Sierra Leone’s capital city is Freetown.
See also South Sudan’s Top 10 Exports, Somalia’s Top 10 Exports and Top African Export Countries
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Africa: Sierra Leone. Accessed on June 20, 2020
Forbes 2016 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on June 20, 2020
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Databases (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on June 20, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on June 20, 2020
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on June 20, 2020
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Sierra Leone. Accessed on June 20, 2020
Wikipedia, Flag of Sierra Leone. Accessed on June 20, 2020
Wikipedia, Sierra Leone. Accessed on June 20, 2020
World’s Capital Cities, Capital Facts for Freetown, Sierra Leone. Accessed on June 20, 2020