Formerly known as Ceylon, the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka shipped an estimated US$11.2 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2018. That dollar amount results from a -1.1% dip from $11.3 billion worth of shipments during 2014. From 2017 to 2018, Sri Lankan exports shrank by -4.9%.
Sri Lanka is a South Asian island country located in the Indian Ocean, located immediately off the southeastern coast of the Asian economic powerhouse India.
Given Sri Lanka’s population of 22.4 million people, its total $11.2 billion in 2018 exports translates to roughly $500 for every resident in the South Asian country.
Insights on Sri Lanka’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups categorize the highest dollar value in Sri Lankan global shipments during 2018. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Sri Lanka.
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: US$2.9 billion (25.8% of total exports)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $2.2 billion (19.4%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $1 billion (9.3%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $926.9 million (8.3%)
- Ships, boats: $542.6 million (4.9%)
- Gems, precious metals: $408.3 million (3.7%)
- Machinery including computers: $309 million (2.8%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $308.6 million (2.8%)
- Fish: $264.9 million (2.4%)
- Other chemical goods: $124.5 million (1.1%)
Sri Lanka ’s top 10 exports accounted for 80.4% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Ships and boats was the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up by 93.5% year over year since 2017.
In second place for improving export sales was gems and precious metals which rose 53% led by precious stones and diamonds.
Sri Lanka ‘s shipments of machinery including computers posted the third-fastest gain in value appreciating 49.8% year over year.
The sole decliner among the top 10 Sri Lanka export categories was coffee, tea and spices which retreated -44.5%
From the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, tea including flavored varieties represent Sri Lanka ’s most valuable exported product at 6.5% of the country’s total. In second place was unknit and non-crocheted bras and corsets (6.1%) trailed by women’s knit or crocheted underwear and pajamas (4.7%), women’s knit or crocheted clothing in general (4.1%), unknit and non-crocheted women’s clothing in general (4.1%), light vessels, fire boats and floating docks (3.6%), unknit and non-crocheted men’s suits and trousers (3.5%) then used or retreaded rubber tires (3.3%).
The following types of Sri Lankan 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.
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: US$2.8 billion (Up by 6.6% since 2017)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $2 billion (Up by 12.8%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $921 million (Down by -47.7%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $650.2 million (Up by 33.2%)
- Fish: $153.3 million (Up by 54.7%)
- Vegetable plaiting materials: $78.8 million (Up by 246.4%)
- Paper yarn, woven fabric: $74 million (Down by -42.6%)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: $48.8 million (Up by 65.3%)
- Gems, precious metals: $47.6 million (Down by -109.4%)
- Miscellaneous textiles, worn clothing: $36.5 million (Down by -12.7%)
Sri Lanka has highly positive net exports in the international trade of knit or crocheted clothing and accessories. In turn, these cashflows indicate Sri Lanka’s strong competitive advantages under that product category.
Overall Sri Lanka incurred a -$7.6 billion trade deficit in 2018, up from -$9.6 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Sri Lanka that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Sri Lanka’s goods trail Sri Lankan importer spending on foreign products.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$2.3 billion (Down by -21.4% since 2017)
- Vehicles: -$1.9 billion (Up by 32%)
- Machinery including computers: -$1.3 billion (Down by -12.7%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$950.4 million (Down by -13.2%)
- Knit or crochet fabric: -$759.2 million (Down by -3%)
- Cotton: -$655.4 million (Up by 4.5%)
- Iron, steel: -$562.6 million (Down by -29.3%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$540.1 million (Down by -15.4%)
- Paper, paper items: -$396 million (Down by -3.7%)
- Manmade filaments: -$363.6 million (Up by 63.9%)
Sri Lanka has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the mineral fuels category led by refined petroleum oils and coal.
Sri Lankan Export Companies
Not one Sri Lankan corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000.
Wikipedia lists exporters from Sri Lanka. Although relatively smaller companies compared to global leaders, selected examples are shown below:
- Ceylon Biscuits Limited (biscuits)
- Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (petroleum, natural gas)
- Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (tobacco, food, beverages)
- Colombo Dockyard (ships, boats)
- Daintee (confectionery, other food products)
- Dilmah (tea)
- Distilleries Company of Sri Lanka (food, beverages)
- Micro Cars (automobiles)
- Pelwatte Sugar Industries PLC (sugar, milk, alcohol)
- Rainco (umbrellas, mosquito nets, rainwear)
2017 United Nations Comtrade data shows that over three-fifths (62.6%) of products exported from Sri Lanka were bought by importers in: United States (24.8% of the global total), United Kingdom (8.5%), India (6.7%), Germany (4.7%), Italy (4.6%), China (3.7%), Belgium (3%), United Arab Emirates (2.6%), Turkey (2%) and Singapore (also 2%).
From a continental perspective and again synthesizing 2017 data, a third (33.4%) of Sri Lankan exports by value were delivered to Asian countries while 31.9% were sold to European importers with another 28.1% going to customers in North America. Smaller percentages went to Africa (2.3%), Oceania (1.9%) led by Australia and New Zealand, then Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (1.8%).
In macroeconomic terms, Sri Lanka’s total exported goods represent 3.8% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2018 ($290.6 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 3.8% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2018 compares to 4.8% for 2014, seeming to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Sri Lanka’s total economic performance. And while this article focuses on exported goods, it is interesting to note that Sri Lanka also provided $8.4 billion worth of exports-related services to global customers for an additional 2.9% of GDP in PPP.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Sri Lanka’s unemployment rate was 4.7% at March 2019 up from 4.5% one year earlier, according to Trading Economics.
Sri Lanka’s administrative capital city is Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, while the island country’s commercial capital is Colombo.
See also Sri Lanka’s Top 10 Imports and Top Asian Export Countries
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook report on South Asia: Sri Lanka. Accessed on September 28, 2019
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on September 28, 2019
Foreign Trade , United States Census Bureau. Accessed on September 28, 2019
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on September 28, 2019
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on July 3, 2019
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on September 28, 2019
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on July 3, 2019
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Sri Lanka. Accessed on September 28, 2019
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on July 3, 2019