A partially recognized state in East Asia and officially named the Republic of China, Taiwan shipped US$335.8 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2018. That dollar amount reflects a 7.2% gain since 2014 and a 5.7% uptick from 2017 to 2018.
Reported as of September 6, 2019, Taiwan exported $158.1 billion worth of goods during the first 6 months of 2019 down -3.4% compared to the same period one year earlier.
An island once known as Formosa and now often referred to as Chinese Taipei, Taiwan’s top 10 exports accounted for over three-quarters (77.6%) of the overall value of its global shipments in 2018.
From a continental perspective, 73.8% of Taiwanese exports by value were delivered to fellow Asian countries while 13.3% were sold to North American importers. Taiwan shipped another 9.4% worth of goods to buyers in Europe. Smaller percentages went to Oceania (1.3%) led by Australia, Latin America (1.1%) excluding Mexico plus the Caribbean and 0.6% sent to Africa.
Given Taiwan’s population of 23.5 million people, its total $335.8 billion in 2018 exports translates to roughly $14,300 for every resident in the East Asian state.
In macroeconomic terms, Taiwan’s total exported goods represent 26.8% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2018 ($1.251 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 26.8% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2018 compares to 30.9% for 2014, seeming to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Taiwan’s total economic performance. And while this article focuses on exported goods, it is interesting to note that Chinese Taipei also provided $50.3 billion worth of exports-related services to global customers for an additional 4% of GDP in PPP. These metrics include re-exporting activity.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Taiwan’s unemployment rate was 3.75% at May 2019 up from 3.68% one year earlier, according to Trading Economics.
Taiwan’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Taiwanese global shipments during 2018. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Taiwan.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$144.3 billion (43% of total exports)
- Machinery including computers: $40.6 billion (12.1%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $22.4 billion (6.7%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $16.1 billion (4.8%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $13.8 billion (4.1%)
- Organic chemicals: $11.5 billion (3.4%)
- Iron, steel: $10.4 billion (3.1%)
- Vehicles: $9.9 billion (3%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $8.6 billion (2.6%)
- Copper: $5 billion (1.5%)
Fastest-growing in dollar value among the top 10 export categories from 2017 to 2018 were: mineral fuels including oil (up 27.1%), iron or steel metal (up 20.2%), organic chemicals (up 13.1%) then electrical machinery and equipment (up 12%).
The sole declining category for Taiwanese exports was copper via its -0.9% decrease.
At the more detailed four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, Taiwan’s most valuable exported product is integrated circuits and microassemblies (28.5% of total). In second place is refined petroleum oils (3.9%), computer parts or accessories (2.3%), liquid crystal, laser or optical tools (2.2%), unrecorded sound media (2.1%), television, radio and radar device parts (2%), solar power diodes and semi-conductors (1.8%), phone system devices including smartphones (1.7%), printed circuits (also 1.7%) then computers including optical readers (also 1.7%).
Overall Taiwan generated a $49.3 billion trade surplus from all goods bought and sold on international markets during 2018, down -15% from the $58 billion in black ink one year earlier.
The following types of Taiwanese 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.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$68.9 billion (Down by -7% since 2017)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $14.8 billion (Up by 11.4%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $7.1 billion (Up by 12.2%)
- Machinery including computers: $5.4 billion (Up by 180.5%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $4.6 billion (Down by -20.3%)
- Manmade filaments: $2.6 billion (Up by 6.3%)
- Knit or crochet fabric: $2.4 billion (Down by -6.2%)
- Base metal tools, cutlery: $2.3 billion (Up by 0.9%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $1.5 billion (Up by 14.1%)
- Toys, games: $1.5 billion (Down by -4.4%)
Taiwan has highly positive net exports in the international trade of electrical goods including consumer electronics. In turn, these cashflows indicate Taiwan’s world-renown competitive advantages under the electrical machinery and equipment category.
Below are exports from Taiwan that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Taiwan’s goods trail Taiwanese importer spending on foreign products.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$37.6 billion (Up by 27.3% since 2017)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$3.3 billion (Up by 15.4%)
- Other chemical goods: -$2.9 billion (Up by 1.1%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: -$2.2 billion (Down by -26.8%)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$2.1 billion (Up by 6%)
- Gems, precious metals: -$2 billion (Down by -8.6%)
- Meat: -$1.6 billion (Up by 13.8%)
- Oil seeds: -$1.4 billion (Up by 2.5%)
- Cereals: -$1.3 billion (Down by -3.4%)
- Wood: -$1.1 billion (Up by 12%)
Taiwan has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for mineral fuels-related products particularly crude oil, petroleum gases and coal.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Taiwan’s competitive disadvantages in the international energy market, but also represent key opportunities for Taiwan to improve its position in the global economy through focused innovations on alternative energy sources.
Taiwanese Export Companies
Forty-seven corporations rank among Forbes Global 2000. Below is a sample of the major Taiwanese companies that Forbes included:
- Advanced Semiconductor (semiconductors)
- Asustek Computer (computer hardware)
- Cheng Shin Rubber Industry Co. (automotive parts)
- China Steel (iron, steel)
- Delta Electronics (electronics)
- Formosa Chemicals (specialized chemicals)
- Formosa Petrochemical (oil, gas)
- Formosa Plastics (specialized chemicals)
- Hon Hai Precision (electronics)
- Mediatek (semiconductors)
- Nan Ya Plastics (diversified chemicals)
- Pegatron (electronics)
- Quanta Computer (computer hardware)
- Taiwan Semiconductor (semiconductors)
- Uni-President (food processing)
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following companies are also examples of Taiwanese export companies:
- Acer Inc. (computers, smartphones, other electronics)
- Faithful Taiwan (wooden furniture, plastic bags, miscellaneous plastic articles)
- Hosoda Taiwan (automobile steering mechanisms)
- Swire Coca Cola Taiwan (soft drinks, green tea, sparkling wines)
- Taiwan Specco (furniture parts, mountings, seat parts)
Taiwan’s capital city is Taipei.
See also Taiwan’s Top 10 Major Export Companies, Taiwan’s Top 10 Imports, Taiwan’s Top Trading Partners and Taiwan’s Top 10 Imports
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on September 6, 2019
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on September 6, 2019
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on September 6, 2019
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on September 6, 2019
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on September 6, 2019
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Taiwan. Accessed on September 6, 2019
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on September 6, 2019
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on September 6, 2019