Formerly known as Ceylon, the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka shipped an estimated US$11.1 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount results from a 6.3% increase from $10.4 billion worth of shipments during 2015. From 2018 to 2019, the value of Sri Lankan exports dropped by -9.2%.
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.
The latest available country-specific data from 2017 shows that 66.6% of products exported from Sri Lanka were bought by importers in: United States (24.9% of the global total), United Kingdom (8.9%), India (6.7%), Germany (4.7%), Italy (4.5%), China (3.7%), Belgium (3%), United Arab Emirates (2.6%), Turkey (2%), Singapore (also 2%), Netherlands (1.9%) and Russia (1.8%).
From a continental perspective, 35.4% of Sri Lanka’s exports by value were delivered to fellow Asian countries while 33.8% were sold to importers in Europe. Sri Lanka shipped another 29.7% worth of goods to North America. Smaller percentages went to Africa (2.4%), Oceania led by Australia and New Zealand (2%), Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (1.9%).
Given Sri Lanka’s population of 21.9 million people, its total $11.1 billion in 2019 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 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Sri Lanka.
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: US$3.2 billion (28.7% of total exports)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $2.2 billion (19.9%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $979.8 million (8.8%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $907 million (8.2%)
- Gems, precious metals: $437.7 million (3.9%)
- Ships, boats: $326.2 million (2.9%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $297 million (2.7%)
- Fish: $268.2 million (2.4%)
- Machinery including computers: $262.3 million (2.4%)
- Other chemical goods: $125.9 million (1.1%)
Sri Lanka’s top 10 exports accounted for 81% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Knitted or crocheted clothing and accessories represent the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 5.8% from 2018 to 2019.
The only other top product category to gain was gems and precious metals via its 0.3% increase.
The leading decliner among Sri Lanka’s top 10 export categories was ships and boats thanks to a -41.1% drop year over year.
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 unknitted and non-crocheted bras and corsets (6.2%) trailed by women’s knit or crocheted underwear and pajamas (5%), unknit and non-crocheted women’s clothing in general (4.6%) then women’s knitted or crocheted clothing in general (4.4%).
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$3.1 billion (Up by 6.4% since 2018)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $2.1 billion (Down by -1.3%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $859.9 million (Down by -25.8%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $679 million (Up by 2.9%)
- Gems, precious metals: $236.2 million (Reversing a -$391.3 million deficit)
- Fish: $166.4 million (Up by 13%)
- Paper yarn, woven fabric: $77.7 million (Down by -1%)
- Vegetable plaiting materials: $64.9 million (Down by -20.1%)
- Fruits, nuts: $63.5 million (Down by -6.9%)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: $60.8 million (Up by 14.9%)
Sri Lanka has highly positive net exports particularly in the international trade of knitted 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 -$4.8 billion trade deficit in 2019, down -40% from -$8 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$1.9 billion (Down by -21.9% since 2018)
- Machinery including computers: -$1.2 billion (Down by -10.9%)
- Vehicles: -$1.1 billion (Down by -44.1%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$956.8 million (Down by -1.6%)
- Knit or crochet fabric: -$758.6 million (Down by -1.3%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$524.5 million (Down by -24%)
- Cotton: -$512.3 million (Down by -22%)
- Iron, steel: -$437 million (Down by -25.7%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$430.5 million (Up by 28.8%)
- Manmade filaments: -$372.1 million (Down by -0.5%)
Sri Lanka has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the mineral fuels category notably 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)
In macroeconomic terms, Sri Lanka’s total exported goods represent 3.6% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($304.8 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 3.6% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2019 compares to 3.8% for 2018. Those metrics suggest a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Sri Lanka’s total economic performance albeit based on a relatively short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Sri Lanka’s average unemployment rate was 4.4% for 2019 same as one year earlier, according to the International Monetary Fund.
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 June 12, 2020
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on June 12, 2020
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on June 12, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on June 12, 2020
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on June 12, 2020
United States Census Bureau, Foreign Trade . Accessed on June 12, 2020
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on June 12, 2020
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Sri Lanka. Accessed on June 12, 2020
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on June 12, 2020