Overall, South Africa shipped US$74.1 billion worth of products around the globe in 2016. That figure represents less than one half of one percent of total global exports estimated at $16.235 trillion for 2015, and is a 37.6% gain since 2009.
From a continental perspective, 30.1% of South Africa’s total exports by value in 2016 were delivered to Asian trade partners.
Importers from other African countries purchased 28.8% of South African shipments while 24.4% worth arrived in European countries.
A much smaller portion of South African exports (8.1%) were bought by North American importers.
South Africa’s Top Trading Partners
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 2016. Also shown is each import country’s percentage of total South African exports.
- China: US$6.8 billion (9.2% of total South African exports)
- United States: $5.5 billion (7.4%)
- Germany: $5.3 billion (7.1%)
- Botswana: $3.7 billion (5%)
- Namibia: $3.5 billion (4.8%)
- Japan: $3.5 billion (4.7%)
- United Kingdom: $3.2 billion (4.3%)
- India: $3.2 billion (4.3%)
- Belgium: $2.3 billion (3.1%)
- Mozambique: $2.3 billion (3.1%)
- Zambia: $2.1 billion (2.8%)
- Zimbabwe: $2 billion (2.7%)
- Netherlands: $2 billion (2.7%)
- Hong Kong: $1.8 billion (2.4%)
- United Arab Emirates: $1.3 billion (1.8%)
Almost two-thirds (65.1%) of South African exports in 2016 were delivered to the above 15 trade partners.
From the above list, the fastest-growing importing countries over the 7-year period were United Arab Emirates (up 117.5%), Hong Kong (up 83.3%) and Belgium (up 78.5%).
Leading South Africa’s import decliners were Namibia (down -16%), Japan (down -15.8%) and Botswana (down -15.4%).
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 countrydoesn’t necessarily post a negative trade balance with each individual partner with which it exchanges exports and imports.
In 2016, South Africa incurred the highest trade deficits with the following countries:
- China: -US$6.7 billion (country-specific trade deficit in 2016)
- Germany: -$3.6 billion
- Saudi Arabia: -$2.5 billion
- Thailand: -$1.7 billion
- Nigeria: -$1.6 billion
- France: -$1.5 billion
- Brazil: -$1 billion
- Vietnam: -$975.6 million
- Italy: -$748 million
- Angola: -$708.5 million
Among South Africa’s import partners that cause the greatest negative trade balances, South African deficits with Vietnam (up 644.7%), China (up 153.3%) and Thailand (up 54.7%) grew at the fastest pace from 2009 to 2016.
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.
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.
In 2016, South Africa incurred the highest trade surpluses with the following countries:
- Botswana: US$3.3 billion (country-specific trade surplus in 2016)
- Namibia: $3.1 billion
- Zambia: $1.9 billion
- Zimbabwe: $1.6 billion
- Mozambique: $1.6 billion
- Hong Kong: $1.5 billion
- Belgium: $1.5 billion
- United Kingdom: $998.3 million
- Japan: $897.7 million
- Lesotho: $847.6 million
Among South Africa’s import partners that cause the greatest positive trade balances, South African surpluses with Belgium (up 311.6%), United Kingdom (up 109.7%) and Hong Kong (up 103.2%) grew at the fastest pace from 2009 to 2016.
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 Servicing South African Import Partners
South African Export Companies
Fifteen South African corporations rank among Forbes Global 2000 for 2015. 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 Exports, Most Valuable South African Export Products, Nigeria’s Top 10 Exports and Zimbabwe’s Top 10 Exports
The World Factbook, Field Listing: Imports – Commodities, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on February 9, 2017
Trade Map, International Trade Centre, www.intracen.org/marketanalysis. Accessed on February 9, 2017
Investopedia, Net Importer Definition. Accessed on February 9, 2017
Forbes 2015 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on February 17, 2016