South Africa’s Top 10 Imports

South Africa's Top 10 Imports


The Republic of South Africa imported US$83.2 billion worth of goods from around the globe in 2017. That dollar value reflects a -19.5% decline over the 5-year period starting in 2013 but a 11.3% gain from 2016 to 2017.

From January to August 2018, goods imported into South Africa were valued at $62.5 billion. This 8-month metric puts South African imports on track for an annualized $93.7 billion estimated for all 2018.

From a continental perspective, 44.7% of South Africa’s total imports by value in 2017 were purchased from Asian countries. European trade partners supplied 32.5% of import sales to South Africa while 10.3% worth originated from fellow African nations. North American exporters accounted for 7.6% of South Africa’s imports with just 3% coming from Latin America (excluding Mexico) plus the Caribbean.

Given South Africa’s population of 54.8 million people, its total $83.2 billion in 2017 imports translates to roughly $1,500 in yearly product demand from every person in the country.

South Africa’s Top 10 Imports

Top 10

The following product groups represent the highest dollar value in South Africa’s import purchases during 2017. Also shown is the percentage share each product category represents in terms of overall imports into South Africa.

  1. Mineral fuels including oil: US$12.3 billion (14.7% of total imports)
  2. Machinery including computers: $11 billion (13.2%)
  3. Electrical machinery, equipment: $8.5 billion (10.2%)
  4. Vehicles: $7.1 billion (8.5%)
  5. Plastics, plastic articles: $2.5 billion (3%)
  6. Pharmaceuticals: $2.2 billion (2.7%)
  7. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $2.1 billion (2.6%)
  8. Other chemical goods: $1.6 billion (1.9%)
  9. Organic chemicals: $1.3 billion (1.6%)
  10. Inorganic chemicals: $1.2 billion (1.5%)

Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more detailed view of imported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the section Searchable List of South Africa’s Most Valuable Import Products further down near the bottom of this article or under the adjacent product folder tabs.

South Africa’s top 10 imports accounted almost three-fifths (59.8%) of the overall value of its product purchases from other countries.

Fastest-growing among the top 10 categories was inorganic chemicals which gained 27.2% from 2016 to 2017.

In second place was South African exported vehicles which appreciated 22.1% year over year trailed by mineral fuels including oil which rose 22% then pharmaceuticals via its 18.5% increase.

Also see the section Searchable List of South Africa’s Most Valuable Import Products further down near the bottom of this article.


In 2017, South African importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of mineral fuels-related products:

  1. Crude oil: US$6.4 billion (down -1.8% from 2016)
  2. Processed petroleum oils: $4.4 billion (up 73.9%)
  3. Coal, solid fuels made from coal: $478.3 million (up 134%)
  4. Petroleum gases: $328.1 million (up 22.4%)
  5. Coke, semi-coke: $252.1 million (up 52.8%)
  6. Electrical energy: $162.3 million (down -10.1%)
  7. Petroleum oil residues: $97.6 million (up 47%)
  8. Petroleum jelly, mineral waxes: $41.1 million (down -15.3%)
  9. Tar pitch, coke: $16 million (up 65.5%)
  10. Peat: $6.3 million (up 7.9%)

Among these import subcategories, South African purchases of coal including solid fuels made from coal (up 134%), processed petroleum oils (up 73.9%) and tar pitch or coke (up 65.5%) grew at the fastest pace from 2016 to 2017.

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 2017, South African importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of machinery including computers:

  1. Computers, optical readers: US$1.6 billion (up 7.8% from 2016)
  2. Heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators, road rollers): $712.9 million (up 67.7%)
  3. Printing machinery: $673.4 million (up 7.2%)
  4. Machinery parts: $565.1 million (up 15.3%)
  5. Centrifuges, filters and purifiers: $471.9 million (up 10.3%)
  6. Taps, valves, similar appliances: $405.5 million (up 0.9%)
  7. Transmission shafts, gears, clutches: $380.2 million (up 18.2%)
  8. Liquid pumps and elevators: $377.7 million (up 7%)
  9. Miscellaneous machinery: $345.9 million (up 2.1%)
  10. Air or vacuum pumps: $313.5 million (up 1.6%)

Among these import subcategories, South African purchases of heavy machinery like bulldozers, excavators and road rollers (up 67.7%), transmission shafts, gears and clutches (up 18.2%) and machinery parts (up 15.3%) grew at the fastest pace from 2016 to 2017.

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 2017, South African importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of electronics:

  1. Phone system devices including smartphones: US$3.1 billion (up 5.1% from 2016)
  2. Electrical converters/power units: $462.7 million (up 24.7%)
  3. Electric generating sets, converters: $437.3 million (down -9.8%)
  4. Insulated wire/cable: $399 million (up 9.4%)
  5. Lower-voltage switches, fuses: $365.6 million (up 2.7%)
  6. TV/radio/radar device parts: $302.6 million (up 6.2%)
  7. Unrecorded sound media: $279.8 million (up 9.6%)
  8. Electric motors, generators: $257.4 million (up 0.5%)
  9. Electric water heaters, hair dryers: $256.3 million (up 3.6%)
  10. Electric storage batteries: $216 million (up 39.2%)

Among these import subcategories, South African purchases of electric storage batteries (up 39.2%), electrical converters or power units (up 24.7%) and unrecorded sound media (up 9.6%) grew at the fastest pace from 2016 to 2017.

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 2017, South African importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of vehicles:

  1. Cars: US$4 billion (up 21% from 2016)
  2. Automobile parts/accessories: $1.4 billion (up 6.7%)
  3. Trucks: $788 million (up 63.3%)
  4. Tractors: $333.3 million (up 53%)
  5. Public-transport vehicles: $108 million (up 12%)
  6. Motorcycles: $100.7 million (up 9%)
  7. Trailers: $98.9 million (up 33.5%)
  8. Motorcycle parts/accessories: $60.1 million (up 3.1%)
  9. Special purpose vehicles: $56.1 million (up 5.4%)
  10. Armored vehicles, tanks: $43 million (up 47.3%)

Among these import subcategories, South African purchases of trucks (up 63.3%), tractors (up 53%) and armored vehicles and tanks (up 47.3%) grew at the fastest pace from 2016 to 2017.

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

At the more granular four-digit HTS code level, the top South African import products are crude oil followed by refined petroleum oils, cars, smartphones then medication mixes in dosage.

The following searchable table displays 200 of South Africa’s most in-demand imported goods during 2017. Shown beside each product label is its total import value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2016.

RankSouth African Import Product2017 Value (US$)Change
1Crude oil$6.4 billion-1.8%
2Processed petroleum oils$4.4 billion+73.9%
3Cars$4 billion+18.9%
4Phone system devices including smartphones $3.1 billion+5.4%
5Medication mixes in dosage$1.7 billion+20.5%
6Computers, optical readers$1.6 billion+7.8%
7Automobile parts/accessories$1.4 billion+6.5%
8Trucks$786.1 million+63%
9Aircraft, spacecraft$713.2 million-18.3%
10Heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators, road rollers)$711.5 million+67.4%
11Printing machinery$673 million+7.2%
12Rubber tires (new)$617.1 million+9.9%
13Scents used for beverage or industrial manufacturing$571.3 million+25.3%
14Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)$565.9 million+5.5%
15Machinery parts$564.7 million+15.2%
16Diamonds (unmounted/unset)$515.1 million-0.2%
17Rice$513.3 million+22.4%
18Aluminum oxide/hydroxide$511.2 million+42.9%
19Poultry meat$480.7 million+29.3%
20Coal, solid fuels made from coal$479.3 million+134.5%
21Sugar (cane or beet)$474.5 million+55%
22Centrifuges, filters and purifiers$472.4 million+10.4%
23Electrical converters/power units$462.7 million+24.7%
24Packaged insecticides/fungicides/herbicides$440.7 million+34.7%
25Electric generating sets, converters$435 million-10.3%
26Taps, valves, similar appliances$406.1 million+1%
27Insulated wire/cable$398.1 million+9.2%
28Blood fractions (including antisera)$384.6 million+15.7%
29Transmission shafts, gears, clutches$379.8 million+18.1%
30Liquid pumps and elevators$377.6 million+7%
31Ethylene polymers$375 million+11.6%
32Lower-voltage switches, fuses$364.8 million+2.4%
33Miscellaneous machinery$346.4 million+2.2%
34Tractors$333.1 million+52.9%
35Copper wire$331.4 million+94.2%
36Palm oil$327.9 million+14.5%
37Wheat$327.8 million+7.3%
38Petroleum gases$327.3 million+22.1%
39Footwear (textile)$319.9 million-7.8%
40Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)$317.9 million+9.8%
41Chemical industry products/residuals$316.9 million+6.9%
42Air or vacuum pumps$313.4 million+1.5%
43Footwear (rubber or plastic)$307.5 million+7.6%
44TV/radio/radar device parts$302 million+6%
45Gold (unwrought)$301 million+33,453%
46Unused stamps (current or new issue)$291.3 million+2,152%
47Nitrogenous fertilizers$289.8 million+28.8%
48Men's suits, trousers (not knit or crochet)$288.4 million+2%
49Unrecorded sound media$279.4 million+9.4%
50Alcohol (including spirits, liqueurs)$277.6 million+10%
51Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips$262.9 million+14.3%
52Electric motors, generators$257.4 million+0.5%
53Polyacetal/ether/carbonates$257.2 million+14.3%
54Women's clothing (not knit or crochet)$256.8 million+9.7%
55Electric water heaters, hair dryers$256.3 million+3.6%
56Aircraft parts$255.7 million-5.8%
57Coke, semi-coke$252 million+52.8%
58Flat-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products (plated/coated)$248.2 million+29%
59 Dishwashing, clean/dry/fill machines $235.6 million-5.1%
60Orthopedic appliances$234.3 million+5.1%
61Cellulose fiber paper$233.4 million+8.9%
62Other diagnostic/lab reagents$233.4 million+11.5%
63Miscellaneous plastic items$217.8 million+10.5%
64Interchangeable hand/machine tools$217.1 million+69.5%
65Electric storage batteries$215.8 million+39.1%
66Refrigerators, freezers$215.7 million+4.6%
67Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels$213 million+32.6%
68T-shirts, vests (knit or crochet)$206.4 million+2.2%
69Rubber/plastic article making machines$204.3 million+6.1%
70Piston engine parts$203.6 million+2.6%
71Engines (diesel)$202.6 million+7.7%
72Sort/screen/washing machinery$202.4 million+16.8%
73Coated paper$201.7 million-3.9%
74Zinc (unwrought)$198.8 million+32.8%
75Cases, handbags, wallets$198.6 million+6.2%
76Footwear (leather)$196.7 million-1.4%
77Computer parts, accessories$196.2 million-7.6%
78Flat-rolled other alloy steel products$195.2 million-3.6%
79Physical/chemical analysis tools$194.7 million+10.5%
80Fork-lift trucks$194.2 million+30.4%
81Ball, roller bearings$191.4 million+8.3%
82Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations$190.9 million+6.4%
83Other measuring/testing machines$186.2 million+20.4%
84Spray/dispersing mechanical appliances$185.9 million+16.3%
85Iron and steel screws, bolts, nuts, washers$185.9 million+4.8%
86Lifting/loading machinery$185 million+29.5%
87Soya-bean oil-cake, other solid residues$184.2 million-8.7%
88Harvest/threshing machinery$183.1 million+48.1%
89Other food preparations$181.6 million+5.8%
90Air conditioners$178.5 million-26.1%
91TV receivers/monitors/projectors$177.1 million+13.3%
92Ceramic wares for technical uses$176.6 million+2.8%
93Anti-knock/oxidation/gum inhibitors$174.8 million+5.9%
94Aluminum plates, sheets, strips$172.2 million+17.5%
95Temperature-change machines$171.9 million-34.1%
96Miscellaneous iron or steel items$171.7 million-0.01%
97Models, puzzles, miscellaneous toys$171.3 million+5.7%
98Miscellaneous furniture$170.5 million-0.4%
99Turbo-jets$164.5 million+12.6%
100Plastic packing goods, lids, caps$162.1 million+9.8%
101Electrical energy$161.8 million-10.4%
102Carbonates, percarbonates$160.4 million+39.4%
103Self-adhesive plastic in rolls$156.6 million+13.4%
104TV receiver/transmit/digital cameras$156.2 million-2.5%
105Integrated circuits/microassemblies$154.8 million-3.5%
106Iron ferroalloys$153.4 million+9.1%
107Soya-bean oil$153.1 million-1.5%
108#N/A$151 million+238.4%
109Solar power diodes/semi-conductors$149.7 million-35.8%
110Heterocyclics, nucleic acids$148.9 million+2.9%
111Sun/safflower/cotton-seed oil$147.2 million+34.4%
112Whole fish (frozen)$144.8 million+21.1%
113Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips$143.5 million+14.1%
114Miscellaneous animal feed preparations$143.1 million+19.3%
115Vulcanized rubber items$142.8 million+13.7%
116Electrical machinery$141.9 million+8.6%
117Lamps, lighting, illuminated signs$141.8 million-11.2%
118Table games, bowling equipment$140.1 million+13%
119Industrial preparation machinery$139.6 million+23.4%
120Pneumatic hand tool$138.8 million+16.6%
121Microphones/headphones/amps$138 million+25.1%
122Corn$134.4 million-78.7%
123Move/grade/scrape/boring machinery$129.9 million+20%
124Unmanufactured tobacco, tobacco waste$128.6 million-6%
125Sanitary towels, baby napkins/liners$128.3 million+25.2%
126Unglazed ceramic flags, tiles, cubes$127.7 million+468.2%
127Synthetic yarn woven fabrics$126.7 million+9.8%
128Nuclear reactors, fuel elements$124.1 million+5.9%
129Other organic cleaning preparations$123.7 million-2.3%
130Fish, caviar (preserved/prepared)$123.4 million+26.3%
131Sports equipment$120.6 million+7.4%
132Initiators/accelerators, catalytic preps$119.9 million+12%
133Base metal mountings, fittings$119.7 million+5.1%
134Liquid/gas checking instruments$118.1 million+6.5%
135Aluminum bars/rods$117.1 million+23%
136Animal guts, bladders, stomachs$116.8 million+64.2%
137Moulding boxes/base$116.6 million+64.9%
138Print/write/draw inks$116.4 million+23.8%
139Styrene polymers$115.8 million+7.1%
140Plastic tubes, pipes, fittings$115.2 million+1%
141Self-propelled railway/streetcar coaches/trucks$114.7 million-0.2%
142Electrical lighting/signaling equpment, defrosters$114.4 million+8.9%
143Acyclic alcohols$113.6 million+23.5%
144Uncoated paper for writing/printing$113 million-6.1%
145Electric ignition/start equipment$113 million+13.2%
146Printed books, brochures$112.7 million-4.6%
147Miscellaneous railway/streetcar parts$112.5 million+6.9%
148Miscellaneous engines, motors$112.3 million+19%
149Regulate/control instruments$112.3 million-4.1%
150Steam/vapor turbines$111.7 million-62%
151Electric circuit parts, fuses, switches$108.7 million+10.9%
152Sawn wood$107.6 million+3.3%
153Public-transport vehicles$107.2 million+11.2%
154Iron or steel pipe fittings$106.9 million+15.8%
155Acrylic polymers$106.1 million+13.6%
156Fertilizer mixes$106 million+19.1%
157Chocolate, other cocoa preparations$103 million+28.5%
158Jerseys, pullovers (knit or crochet)$102.8 million-6%
159X-ray equipment$102.8 million-3.8%
160Motorcycles$99.8 million+8.1%
161Trailers$98.3 million+32.7%
162Petroleum oil residues$97.8 million+47.3%
163Aluminum (unwrought)$97.6 million+33.9%
164Miscellaneous heterocyclics$96.3 million+20%
165Malt beer$95.2 million+50%
166Piston engines$93.9 million-11.4%
167Potassic fertilizers$93.1 million-2.5%
168Sodium/potash hydroxide, peroxide$93 million+51.7%
169Cigars/cigarellos, cigarettes$92.5 million+17.2%
170Propylene/olefin polymers$92.2 million+16.9%
171Coffee$91.9 million+10.4%
172Coated/laminated non-wovens$91.7 million+3.7%
173Metal soldering/hot-spray equipment$89.2 million+9.7%
174Women's clothing (knit or crochet)$88.4 million+6.8%
175Uncoated kraft paper$88.1 million+3.2%
176Refined copper, unwrought alloys$87.7 million-34.8%
177Electric sound/visual signal bells or alarms$85.1 million-1.8%
178Other coloring matter, luminophores$85 million+28.6%
179Filament/discharge lamps$83.8 million+24.7%
180Perfumes, toilet waters$83.3 million+8.4%
181Cyclic hydrocarbons$82.7 million+17.2%
182Washing machines$82.1 million+21.9%
183Coffee/tea extracts, concentrates$81.7 million+18.5%
184Amino-resins$81.2 million+18.7%
185Hot-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products$81 million+10.9%
186Men's shirts (not knit or crochet)$80.1 million-6.3%
187Non-alcoholic drinks (not water/juice/milk)$79.5 million-0.2%
188Polycarboxylic acids$78.7 million-3.5%
189Fruit and vegetable juices$78.5 million-8.6%
190Radar, radio communication items$78.4 million-17.3%
191Synthetic filament yarn$77.1 million+4.1%
192Mixed alkylbenzenes, alkylnaphthalenes$76.7 million-2.5%
193Saturated acyclic mono acids$75.9 million+8.4%
194High-voltage switches, fuses$75.7 million+3.1%
195Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries$74.9 million+35.7%
196Enzymes$74.4 million+34.8%
197Other machine parts, accessories$74.3 million+17.9%
198Aluminum wire$74 million+1.1%
199Vulcanized rubber tubes, pipes$73.8 million+19.5%
200Vulcanized rubber belts$73.2 million+21.3%

These 200 imported goods were worth a subtotal of US$61.5 billion or almost three-quarters (74%) by value for all products imported into South Africa during 2017.

See also South Africa’s Top 10 Exports, Top South African Trading Partners and Top African Export Countries

Research Sources:
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on August 8, 2018

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on August 8, 2018

Trade Map, International Trade Centre, Accessed on August 8, 2018