Top South African Trading Partners

Top South African Trading Partners

Plettenberg Bay red sky

Formerly called Zuid-Afrika, South Africa continues to battle international trade constraints presented by its geographic location notably in relation to distant South African trading partners like China and the United States.

Overall, South Africa shipped US$89.5 billion worth of products around the globe in 2017. Up 20.8% since 2016, that dollar figure represents roughly one half of one percent of all global exports estimated at $15.952 trillion for 2016.

From a continental perspective, 32% of South African exports by value are delivered to Asian importers while 26.3% are sold to fellow African countries. South Africa ships 23.9% worth to Europe with another 8% delivered to destinations in North America.

South Africa’s Top Trading Partners

Top 15

Below is a list showcasing 15 of South Africa’s top trading partners in terms of its export sales. That is, countries that imported the most South African shipments by dollar value during 2017. Also shown is each import country’s percentage of total South African exports.

  1. China: US$8.6 billion (9.6% of total South African exports)
  2. United States: $6.7 billion (7.5%)
  3. Germany: $6.3 billion (7.1%)
  4. Japan: $4.2 billion (4.7%)
  5. India: $4.2 billion (4.7%)
  6. Botswana: $3.9 billion (4.3%)
  7. Namibia: $3.6 billion (4%)
  8. United Kingdom: $3.5 billion (3.9%)
  9. Mozambique: $3 billion (3.3%)
  10. Netherlands: $2.9 billion (3.2%)
  11. Belgium: $2.5 billion (2.8%)
  12. Zambia: $2.3 billion (2.6%)
  13. Zimbabwe: $2.1 billion (2.4%)
  14. South Korea: $1.9 billion (2.2%)
  15. United Arab Emirates: $1.8 billion (2%)

Almost two-thirds (64%) of South African exports in 2017 were delivered to the above 15 trade partners.

From the above list, the fastest-growing importing countries from 2016 to 2017 were the Netherlands (up 43.4%), India (up 32.2%), Mozambique (up 31.3%) and China (up 26%).

Deficits

As defined by Investopedia, a country whose total value of all imported goods is higher than its value of all exports is said to have a negative trade balance or deficit.

It would be unrealistic for any exporting nation to expect across-the-board positive trade balances with all its importing partners. Similarly, that export country doesn’t necessarily post a negative trade balance with each individual partner with which it exchanges exports and imports.

South Africa incurred the highest trade deficits with the following countries:

  1. China: -US$6.6 billion (country-specific trade deficit in 2017)
  2. Saudi Arabia: -$3.5 billion
  3. Germany: -$3.3 billion
  4. Thailand: -$1.9 billion
  5. Nigeria: -$1.3 billion
  6. France: -$1.2 billion
  7. Italy: -$1.2 billion
  8. Brazil: -$1.2 billion
  9. Vietnam: -$781.5 million
  10. Angola: -$755.7 million

Among South Africa’s trading partners that cause the greatest negative trade balances, South African deficits with Italy (up 54.5%), Saudi Arabia (up 41.8%) and Thailand (up 13.1%) grew at the fastest pace from 2016 to 2017.

These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate South Africa’s competitive disadvantages with the above countries, but also represent key opportunities for South Africa to develop country-specific strategies to strengthen its overall position in international trade.

Surpluses

Overall South Africa posted a $6.3 billion trade surplus for 2017, reversing a -$633.2 million deficit one year earlier.

Based on Investopedia’s definition of net importer, a country whose total value of all imported goods is lower than its value of all exports is said to have a positive trade balance or surplus.

South Africa incurred the highest trade surpluses with the following countries:

  1. Botswana: US$3.4 billion (country-specific trade surplus in 2017)
  2. Namibia: $2.7 billion
  3. Zambia: $2.1 billion
  4. Mozambique: $2.1 billion
  5. Zimbabwe: $2 billion
  6. Netherlands: $1.6 billion
  7. Belgium: $1.6 billion
  8. Hong Kong: $1.4 billion
  9. Japan: $1.3 billion
  10. United States: $1.2 billion

Among South Africa’s trading partners that generate the greatest positive trade balances, South African surpluses with United States (up 134.9%), Netherlands (up 130.2%) and Japan (up 49.7%) grew at the fastest pace from 2016 to 2017.

These positive cashflow streams clearly indicate South Africa’s competitive advantages with the above countries, but also represent key opportunities for South Africa to develop country-specific strategies to optimize its overall position in international trade.

Companies

Companies Servicing South African Import Partners

South African Export Companies

Fifteen South African corporations rank among Forbes Global 2000. Below is a sample of the major South African companies that Forbes included:

  • Sasol (diversified chemicals)
  • MTN Group (telecommunications)
  • Steinhoff International (furniture)
  • Naspers (broadcasting, cable)
  • Bidvest Group (industrials conglomerate)
  • Aspen Pharmacare Holdings (pharmaceuticals)
  • Remgro (industrials conglomerate)


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

Research Sources:
The World Factbook, Field Listing: Imports – Commodities, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on February 9, 2018

Trade Map, International Trade Centre, www.intracen.org/marketanalysis. Accessed on February 9, 2018

Investopedia, Net Importer Definition. Accessed on February 9, 2018

Forbes 2015 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on February 17, 2016