A West African nation that shares its southwestern coastline with the Atlantic Ocean, the Republic of Sierra Leone shipped an estimated US$205.4 million worth of goods around the globe in 2018. That dollar amount reflects a -26.5% drop since 2014 but a 23.8% uptick from 2017 to 2018.
Based on 2017 estimates from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, Sierra Leone’s exported goods plus services represent 26.8% of total Sierra Leonean economic output or Gross Domestic Product. 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 shows that 90.6% of products exported from Sierra Leone were bought by importers in: China (18.2% of the global total), South Korea (13.8%), Netherlands (13%), Somalia (11.3%), Ghana (8%), Romania (also 8%), Germany (5.4%), Guinea (4.5%), Senegal (3%), Ivory Coast (1.9%), Belgium (1.8%) and India (1.6%).
From a continental perspective, 35.2% of Sierra Leone exports by value were delivered to fellow African countries while 34.2% were sold to Asian importers. Sierra Leone shipped another 30% worth of goods to Europe. Smaller percentages went to North American (0.5%), Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.1%) then Australia (0.02%).
Given Sierra Leone’s population of 6.3 million people, its total $205.4 million in 2018 exports translates to roughly $35 for every resident in the West African nation.
Sierra Leone’s unemployment rate was 4.3% in 2018 down from 4.5% one year earlier, according to Trading Economics.
Sierra Leone’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups categorize the highest dollar value in Sierra Leonean 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 Sierra Leone.
- Fish: US$41.4 million (20.2% of total exports)
- Ores, slag, ash: $33.2 million (16.1%)
- Cocoa: $21.6 million (10.5%)
- Vehicles: $20.9 million (10.2%)
- Wood: $19.9 million (9.7%)
- Machinery including computers: $12.7 million (6.2%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $11.4 million (5.6%)
- Explosives, pyrotechnics, matches: $5.8 million (2.8%)
- Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $5.2 million (2.5%)
- Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $4.8 million (2.3%)
Sierra Leone’s top 10 exports account for 86.1% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Explosives, pyrotechnics and matches was the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up by 579,200% since 2017.
In second place for improving export sales was salt, sulphur, stone and cement via a 12,169% gain.
Sierra Leone’s shipments of vegetable, fruit or nut preparations posted the third-fastest gain in value, up by 2,670% year over year.
The leading decliner among Sierra Leone’s top 10 export categories was fish: which fell -28.4%
Drilling down to 4-digit HTS codes, Sierra Leone’s most valuable exported goods in 2018 were: other aquatic invertebrates, cocoa beans, trucks, sawn wood, metal-containing ash and residues, frozen whole fish, miscellaneous ores and concentrates, palm oil, niobium or zirconium ores and concentrates, then pyrophoric alloys.
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.
- Fish: US$36.3 million (Down by -31.8% since 2017)
- Ores, slag, ash: $33.1 million (Up by 587.5%)
- Cocoa: $21 million (Down by -6.5%)
- Wood: $16.2 million (Up by 297.4%)
- Explosives, pyrotechnics, matches: $5.5 million (Reversing a -$4.1 million deficit)
- Oil seeds: $2.7 million (Down by -60.1%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $580,000 (Reversing a -$241,000 deficit)
- Fruits, nuts: $329,000 (Up by 0.3%)
- Other base metals: $82,000 (Reversing a -$139,000 deficit)
- Plaiting products, basketware, wickerwork: $10,000 (Reversing an -$8,000 deficit)
Sierra Leone has highly positive net exports in the international trade of seafood. In turn, these cashflows indicate Sierra Leone’s strong competitive advantages under the fish product category.
Overall, Sierra Leone incurred a -$781.5 million trade deficit for 2018 down by -15.5% from 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$154.4 million (Down by -21.1% since 2017)
- Machinery including computers: -$99.2 million (Down by -14.2%)
- Vehicles: -$70.8 million (Down by -26.7%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$57.3 million (Down by -7.5%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$55.9 million (Up by 56.5%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$47.1 million (Up by 15.2%)
- Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: -$41.6 million (Down by -30.1%)
- Iron, steel: -$31.3 million (Down by -18.5%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$24.1 million (Up by 29.9%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: -$22.4 million (Up by 4.1%)
Weighed down by costs for imported rice and to a lesser extent wheat, corn and buckwheat, 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)
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
Forbes 2016 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on October 28, 2019
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Databases (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on October 28, 2019
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on October 28, 2019
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on October 28, 2019
The World Factbook, Africa: Sierra Leone. Accessed on October 28, 2019
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Sierra Leone. Accessed on October 28, 2019
Wikipedia, Flag of Sierra Leone. Accessed on October 28, 2019
Wikipedia, Sierra Leone. Accessed on October 28, 2019
World’s Capital Cities, Capital Facts for Freetown, Sierra Leone. Accessed on October 28, 2019