A partially recognized state in East Asia and officially named the Republic of China, Taiwan shipped US$329.5 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects a 17.7% gain since 2015 but a -1.9% dip from 2018 to 2019.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2019, the new Taiwan dollar appreciated by 3.1% against the US dollar since 2015 but declined by -2.5% from 2018 to 2019. Taiwan’s weaker local currency since 2018 makes its exports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively less expensive for international buyers during 2019.
Taiwan is an island once known as Formosa and now often referred to as Chinese Taipei or Taiwan Province of China.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 85.4% of products exported from Taiwan were bought by importers in: China (27.9% of the global total), United States (14.1%), Hong Kong (12.3%), Japan (7.1%), Singapore (5.5%), South Korea (5.1%), Vietnam (3.3%), Malaysia (2.9%), Germany (2%), Philippines (1.9%), Netherlands (1.8%) and Thailand (1.7%).
From a continental perspective, 72.1% of Taiwan’s exports by value were delivered to fellow Asian trade partners while 15.7% were sold to importers in North America. Taiwan shipped another 9.1% worth of goods to Europe. Smaller percentages went to Oceania led by Australia (1.2%), Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.9%) then Africa (0.6%).
Given Taiwan’s population of 23.6 million people, its total $329.5 billion in 2019 exports translates to roughly $14,000 for every resident in the East Asian state.
Taiwan’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Taiwanese global shipments during 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Taiwan.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$147.4 billion (44.7% of total exports)
- Machinery including computers: $42.7 billion (13%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $19.9 billion (6%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $15.8 billion (4.8%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $12.9 billion (3.9%)
- Vehicles: $10.3 billion (3.1%)
- Organic chemicals: $9 billion (2.7%)
- Iron, steel: $8.8 billion (2.7%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $7.8 billion (2.4%)
- Copper: $4.4 billion (1.3%)
Taiwan’s top 10 exports accounted for over four-fifths (84.7%) of the overall value of its global shipments in 2019.
Machinery including computers was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 5.2% from 2018 to 2019. The only other product categories posting increases year over year were vehicles (up 3.9%) and electrical machinery and equipment (up 2.1%).
The leading decliner among Taiwan’s top 10 export categories was organic chemicals thanks to a -22.2% drop year over year.
At the more detailed four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, Taiwan’s most valuable exported product is integrated circuits and microassemblies (30.5% of total). In second place is refined petroleum oils (3.7%) trailed by computer parts or accessories (3.2%), computers including optical readers (2.7%), unrecorded sound media (2.3%), phone system devices including smartphones (also 2.3%), liquid crystal, laser or optical tools (2%), television, radio and radar device parts (1.7%), printed circuits (1.6%) then solar power diodes and semi-conductors (1.4%).
Overall Taiwan generated a $43.5 billion trade surplus from all goods bought and sold on international markets during 2019, down -11.7% from the $49.3 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$67.8 billion (Down by -1.6% since 2018)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $12.6 billion (Down by -14.9%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $6.2 billion (Down by -12.5%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $3.5 billion (Down by -25.2%)
- Manmade filaments: $2.4 billion (Down by -9.6%)
- Base metal tools, cutlery: $2.3 billion (Up by 1.1%)
- Knit or crochet fabric: $2.2 billion (Down by -7.7%)
- Toys, games: $1.7 billion (Up by 11.6%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $1.5 billion (Down by -4.8%)
- Vehicles: $1.4 billion (Up by 13.7%)
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-$31.4 billion (Down by -16.6% since 2018)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$3.7 billion (Up by 9.4%)
- Other chemical goods: -$2.5 billion (Down by -13.4%)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$2.5 billion (Up by 16.7%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: -$2.2 billion (Down by -2.3%)
- Meat: -$1.6 billion (Up by 0.7%)
- Cereals: -$1.4 billion (Up by 8.9%)
- Gems, precious metals: -$1.4 billion (Down by -30.1%)
- Oil seeds: -$1.4 billion (Down by -2.6%)
- Wood: -$1 billion (Down by -10.3%)
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)
In macroeconomic terms, Taiwan’s total exported goods represent 25.3% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($1.3 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 25.3% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2019 compares to 26.8% for 2018. Those percentages suggest a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Taiwan’s total economic performance, albeit based on a short timeframe. These metrics include re-exporting activity.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Taiwan’s average unemployment rate was 3.8% for 2019 up from 3.71% one year earlier, according to the International Monetary Fund.
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 China’s Top 10 Imports
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on March 23, 2020
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on March 23, 2020
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on March 23, 2020
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on March 23, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on March 23, 2020
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 23, 2020
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on March 23, 2020
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Taiwan. Accessed on March 23, 2020
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on March 23, 2020
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on March 23, 2020