Zambia’s Top 10 Exports

Zambia’s Top 10 Exports


Formerly called Northern Rhodesia until its independence in 1964, the Republic of Zambia exported US$8.1 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2017.

The landlocked nation in Africa’s southern region experienced a -23.3% drop in the value of its exports since 2013. However, Zambia posted a 26.5% uptick from 2016 to 2017.

Based on estimates from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, Zambia’s exported goods plus services represent 45.3% of total Zambian economic output or Gross Domestic Product. The analysis below focuses on exported products only.

From a continental perspective, $3.9 billion or 47.9% of Zambian exports by value were delivered to European countries while 30.5% were sold to Asian importers. Zambia shipped another 18.8% worth of goods to fellow African nations with just 0.1% going to importing customers in North America.

Given Zambia’s population of 16 million people, its total $8.1 billion in 2017 exports translates to approximatly $500 for every resident in that country.

Zambia’s unemployment rate was an estimated 8.4% as of October 2017 according to Trading Economics projections.

Zambia’s Top 10 Exports

Top 10

The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Zambian global shipments during 2017. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Zambia. The African nation’s top 10 exports in 2017 accounted for 89.9% of the overall value of Zambian global shipments.

At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, Zambia’s most valuable exported products are copper followed by tobacco, precious stones then corn.

  1. Copper: US$6.1 billion (75.7% of total exports)
  2. Inorganic chemicals: $246 million (3%)
  3. Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $157.4 million (1.9%)
  4. Sugar, sugar confectionery: $136.8 million (1.7%)
  5. Other base metals: $124.5 million (1.5%)
  6. Books, newspapers, pictures: $120.6 million (1.5%)
  7. Gems, precious metals: $101.6 million (1.3%)
  8. Cereals: $99.4 million (1.2%)
  9. Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $88.6 million (1.1%)
  10. Machinery including computers: $79.7 million (1%)

Inorganic chemicals was the fastest-gainer among the top product categories for Zambian exports via a 288.9% gain from 2016 to 2017.

In second place was the books, newpapers and pictures category (up 81.7%) followed by copper (up 36.4%).

The two leading decliners were exported cereals (down -46.9%) led by a drop in shipped corn, trailed by the gems and precious metals category (down -32.4%) thanks to Zambia’s diminished international sales of gold and precious metal scrap.


The following types of Zambian 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 is 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.

  1. Copper: US$6.1 billion (Up by 36.5% since 2016)
  2. Sugar, sugar confectionery: $127.7 million (Up by 15.2%)
  3. Other base metals: $123.1 million (Up by 18.7%)
  4. Gems, precious metals: $98.1 million (Down by -33.1%)
  5. Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $81.9 million (Up by 0.1%)
  6. Books, newspapers, pictures: $80.4 million (Up by 110.1%)
  7. Cereals: $65.5 million (Down by -63.1%)
  8. Oil seeds: $51.9 million (Up by 240.1%)
  9. Food industry waste, animal fodder: $37.4 million (Up by 724.3%)
  10. Cotton: $36.7 million (Down by -41.8%)

Zambia has highly positive net exports in the international trade of its most lucrative export, copper. In turn, these cashflows indicate Zambia’s strong competitive advantages under the copper product category.


Zambia incurred a -$584.3 million trade deficit during 2017, a -36% reduction from the -$913 million deficit for 2016.

Below are exports from Zambia that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Zambia’s goods trail Zambian importer spending on foreign products.

  1. Mineral fuels including oil: -US$1.2 billion (Down by -18.5% since 2016)
  2. Machinery including computers: -$1 billion (Up by 20.8%)
  3. Ores, slag, ash: -$986.7 million (Up by 49.9%)
  4. Inorganic chemicals: -$604.4 million (Up by 130.6%)
  5. Fertilizers: -$531.6 million (Up by 93.5%)
  6. Vehicles: -$460 million (Up by 10.4%)
  7. Electrical machinery, equipment: -$384.9 million (Down by -5.4%)
  8. Articles of iron or steel: -$256.2 million (Up by 41.3%)
  9. Plastics, plastic articles: -$218.2 million (Up by 16.8%)
  10. Aircraft, spacecraft: -$195 million (Up by 1977.2%)

Zambia has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for both refined petroleum oils and crude oil.


Zambian Export Companies

Not one Zambian corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000 for 2015.

Wikipedia lists exporters from Zambia including companies engaged in international trade. Selected examples are shown below:

  • Chilanga Cement (cement, cement clinker)
  • Konkola Copper Mines (copper mining, smelter)
  • Zambeef Products (beef, milk, eggs)
  • Zambezi Airlines (airliner)
  • Zambian Breweries Plc (lagers, bottling)
  • ZCCM Investments Holdings (copper-mining conglomerate)

Zambia’s capital city is Lusaka.

Please note that the results listed above are at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level.

See also Zambia’s Top Trading Partners and Top African Export Countries

Research Sources:
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on February 11, 2018

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on February 11, 2018

Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on February 11, 2018

Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on February 11, 2018

Wikipedia, List of Companies of Zambia. Accessed on February 11, 2018

Forbes 2015 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on February 11, 2018