The Republic of South Africa imported US$88.1 billion worth of goods from around the globe in 2019. That dollar value reflects a 3.1% increase over the 5-year period starting in 2015 but a -5.7% decline from 2018 to 2019.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2019, the South African rand depreciated by -13.2% against the US dollar since 2015 and dropped by -9.2% from 2018 to 2019. South Africa’s weaker local currency makes its imports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively more expensive when converted starting from the South African rand.
From a continental perspective, 45% of South Africa’s total imports by value in 2019 were purchased from Asian countries. European trade partners supplied 31.5% of imported bought by South Africa while about 12% worth originated from fellow African nations. North American exporters accounted for 7.6% of South Africa’s imports, with 2.3% coming from Latin America (excluding Mexico) plus the Caribbean and 1.3% shipped from Oceania led by Australia.
Given South Africa’s population of 58.8 million people, its total $88.1 billion in 2019 imports translates to roughly $1,500 in yearly product demand from every person in the resources-rich South African country.
South Africa’s Top 10 Imports
The following product groups represent the highest dollar value in South Africa’s import purchases during 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each product category represents in terms of overall imports into South Africa.
- Mineral fuels including oil: US$14.8 billion (16.8% of total imports)
- Machinery including computers: $11.2 billion (12.7%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $8.6 billion (9.7%)
- Vehicles: $7 billion (8%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $2.5 billion (2.8%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $2.4 billion (2.7%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $2.2 billion (2.5%)
- Other chemical goods: $1.6 billion (1.8%)
- Organic chemicals: $1.4 billion (1.6%)
- Books, newspapers, pictures: $1.3 billion (1.5%)
South Africa’s top 10 imports accounted for three-fifths (60.7%) of the overall value of its product purchases from other countries.
Fastest-declining among the top 10 categories was mineral fuels including oil which dropped -13.4% from 2018 to 2019. In second place was South African exported plastics including articles made from plastic which depreciated -12.1% year over year. In third place was the books, newspapers and pictures category which fell -9.6%.
Also see the section Searchable List of South Africa’s Most Valuable Import Products further down near the bottom of this article.
In 2019, South African importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of mineral fuels-related products.
- Crude oil: US$8.8 billion (down -18.4% from 2018)
- Processed petroleum oils: $4.5 billion (down -1%)
- Coal, solid fuels made from coal: $452.7 million (down -16.5%)
- Petroleum gases: $424.2 million (down -0.6%)
- Electrical energy: $259.8 million (up 11%)
- Coke, semi-coke: $137.1 million (down -48.5%)
- Petroleum oil residues: $89.8 million (down -26.6%)
- Petroleum jelly, mineral waxes: $33.9 million (down -6.7%)
- Tar pitch, coke: $20.5 million (down -29%)
- Peat: $8.7 million (down -2.1%)
Among these import subcategories, South African purchases of electrical energy (up 11%) was the only category to expand in value from 2018 to 2019.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of mineral fuels-related imports among South African businesses and consumers.
In 2019, South African importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of machinery including computers.
- Computers, optical readers: US$1.8 billion (up 1.9% from 2018)
- Heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators, road rollers): $692.3 million (down -9%)
- Printing machinery: $675.9 million (down -10.7%)
- Machinery parts: $583.7 million (down -5%)
- Centrifuges, filters and purifiers: $417.2 million (down -11.1%)
- Taps, valves, similar appliances: $413.7 million (down -8.9%)
- Liquid pumps and elevators: $404.8 million (down -7.9%)
- Miscellaneous machinery: $361.1 million (down -10%)
- Transmission shafts, gears, clutches: $353.4 million (down -9.1%)
- Air or vacuum pumps: $320.5 million (up 3.1%)
Among these import subcategories, South African purchases of air or vacuum pumps (up 3.1%) and computers including optical readers (up 1.9%) were the only two categories to grow from 2018 to 2019.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported machinery among South African businesses and consumers.
In 2019, South African importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of electronics.
- Phone system devices including smartphones: US$3.1 billion (down -9.5% from 2018)
- Electrical converters/power units: $440.5 million (up 5.1%)
- Insulated wire/cable: $414.1 million (down -3.8%)
- Electric generating sets, converters: $403.9 million (up 373.7%)
- Solar power diodes/semi-conductors: $340.8 million (up 91.5%)
- Lower-voltage switches, fuses: $331.4 million (down -6.8%)
- Electric storage batteries: $305.4 million (up 8.9%)
- TV/radio/radar device parts: $296.5 million (down -1.5%)
- Electric water heaters, hair dryers: $284 million (up 1.7%)
- Unrecorded sound media: $224.2 million (down -20.6%)
Among these import subcategories, South African purchases of electric generating sets and converters (up 373.7%), solar power diodes or semi-conductors (up 91.5%) then electric storage batteries (up 8.9%) grew at the fastest pace from 2018 to 2019.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported electronics among South African businesses and consumers.
In 2019, South African importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of vehicles.
- Cars: US$3.9 billion (down -0.1% from 2018)
- Automobile parts/accessories: $1.6 billion (up 8.1%)
- Trucks: $709.2 million (down -16%)
- Tractors: $255 million (down -17.6%)
- Trailers: $108.6 million (up 0.5%)
- Public-transport vehicles: $96.3 million (up 5.6%)
- Motorcycles: $94.5 million (up 19%)
- Motorcycle parts/accessories: $46.4 million (down -10.6%)
- Special purpose vehicles: $46.4 million (up 5.4%)
- Bicycles, other non-motorized cycles: $28.1 million (down -17.2%)
Among these import subcategories, South African purchases of motorcycles (up 19%), automobile parts or accessories (up 8.1%) then public-transport vehicles (up 5.6%) grew at the fastest pace from 2018 to 2019.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported vehicles among South African businesses and consumers.
Searchable List of South Africa’s Most Valuable Import Products
The following searchable table displays 100 of South Africa’s most in-demand imported goods during 2019. Shown beside each product label is its total import value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2018.
|Rank||South African Import Product||2019 Value (US$)||Change|
|2||Processed petroleum oils||$4,500,687,000||-1%|
|4||Phone system devices including smartphones||$3,078,486,000||-9.5%|
|5||Computers, optical readers||$1,825,073,000||+1.9%|
|6||Medication mixes in dosage||$1,771,134,000||-8.4%|
|8||Unused stamps (current or new issue)||$1,122,107,000||-9.8%|
|11||Heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators, road rollers)||$692,291,000||-9%|
|13||Rubber tires (new)||$651,387,000||-5.5%|
|14||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$638,826,000||+4.8%|
|17||Scents used for beverage or industrial manufacturing||$558,315,000||-2.8%|
|19||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$472,491,000||+16.2%|
|20||Coal, solid fuels made from coal||$452,652,000||-16.5%|
|22||Electrical converters/power units||$440,459,000||+5.1%|
|26||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$417,214,000||-11.1%|
|28||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$413,709,000||-8.9%|
|29||Liquid pumps and elevators||$404,849,000||-7.9%|
|30||Electric generating sets, converters||$403,943,000||+373.7%|
|34||Transmission shafts, gears, clutches||$353,364,000||-9.1%|
|35||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$340,839,000||+91.5%|
|36||Chemical industry products/residuals||$338,598,000||-4.2%|
|37||Men's suits, trousers (not knit or crochet)||$333,971,000||+0.3%|
|38||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$331,384,000||-6.8%|
|39||Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)||$330,639,000||-1.6%|
|42||Air or vacuum pumps||$320,537,000||+3.1%|
|43||Footwear (rubber or plastic)||$312,725,000||-5.1%|
|44||Electric storage batteries||$305,422,000||+8.9%|
|46||Alcohol (including spirits, liqueurs)||$304,609,000||+0.8%|
|47||Sugar (cane or beet)||$302,641,000||-1.4%|
|48||Flat-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products (plated/coated)||$298,045,000||+4.5%|
|50||TV/radio/radar device parts||$296,505,000||-1.5%|
|51||Dishwashing, clean/dry/fill machines||$294,036,000||+25%|
|52||Women's clothing (not knit or crochet)||$284,561,000||+0.5%|
|53||Electric water heaters, hair dryers||$284,021,000||+1.7%|
|57||Flat-rolled other alloy steel products||$255,836,000||+5.7%|
|59||Other diagnostic/lab reagents||$254,518,000||+0.5%|
|60||Cellulose fiber paper||$253,490,000||-4.1%|
|62||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$242,577,000||-6.9%|
|64||Miscellaneous plastic items||$239,848,000||-0.1%|
|67||Ceramic items for lab, other technical uses||$227,995,000||+1.7%|
|69||Unrecorded sound media||$224,180,000||-20.6%|
|70||Electric motors, generators||$223,783,000||-0.1%|
|72||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$217,903,000||-0.2%|
|75||Cases, handbags, wallets||$207,628,000||-6.5%|
|76||T-shirts, vests (knit or crochet)||$204,603,000||+1.3%|
|78||Aluminum plates, sheets, strips||$199,209,000||-17.7%|
|79||Computer parts, accessories||$199,044,000||-6.9%|
|80||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$197,273,000||-2.1%|
|81||Other food preparations||$196,410,000||-1.8%|
|82||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$194,629,000||-8.1%|
|83||Piston engine parts||$191,619,000||-7.8%|
|87||Ball, roller bearings||$188,501,000||-11.9%|
|88||Rubber/plastic article making machines||$179,485,000||+9%|
|89||Iron and steel screws, bolts, nuts, washers||$177,457,000||-8.5%|
|92||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$170,030,000||-8.5%|
|93||Whole fish (frozen)||$168,689,000||-4.3%|
|97||Models, puzzles, miscellaneous toys||$161,665,000||-9.1%|
|100||Other measuring/testing machines||$158,821,000||+3.2%|
These 100 imported goods cost a subtotal of US$54.7 billion or 62.1% by value for all products imported into South Africa during 2019.
See also South Africa’s Top 10 Exports, Top South African Trading Partners and Top African Export Countries
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