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$9.1 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2018.

The landlocked nation in Africa’s southern region experienced a -6.3% drop in the value of its exports since 2014. However, Zambian exports appreciated by 11.7% from 2017 to 2018.

From a continental perspective, $4.3 billion or 47.2% of Zambian exports by value were delivered to European countries while 29% were sold to Asian importers. Zambia shipped another 19.9% worth of goods to fellow African nations with just 0.1% going to importing customers in North America.

Given Zambia’s population of 16.4 million people, its total $9.1 billion in 2018 exports translates to approximately $550 for every resident in the African nation.

In macroeconomic terms, Zambia’s total exported goods represent 12.4% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2018 ($72.9 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 12.4% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2018 compares to 15.1% for 2014, seeming to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Zambia’s total economic performance. And while this article focuses on exported goods, it is interesting to note that Zambia also provided $956.9 million worth of exports-related services to global customers for an additional 1.3% of GDP in PPP.

Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Zambia’s unemployment rate was an estimated 7.79% in 2017, according to Trading Economics.

Zambia’s Top 10 Exports

Top 10

The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Zambian global shipments during 2018. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Zambia.

  1. Copper: US$6.8 billion (75.1% of total exports)
  2. Inorganic chemicals: $200.6 million (2.2%)
  3. Books, newspapers, pictures: $192.1 million (2.1%)
  4. Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $190.9 million (2.1%)
  5. Machinery including computers: $126.7 million (1.4%)
  6. Sugar, sugar confectionery: $125 million (1.4%)
  7. Other base metals: $120.6 million (1.3%)
  8. Stone, plaster, cement, asbestos: $112.9 million (1.2%)
  9. Gems, precious metals: $105 million (1.2%)
  10. Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $104.7 million (1.2%)

The African nation’s top 10 exports in 2018 accounted for 89.1% of the overall value of Zambian global shipments.

Stone, plaster, cement and asbestos was the fastest-gainer among the top product categories for Zambian exports via its 171.8% gain from 2017 to 2018.

In second place was the books, newpapers and pictures category (up 59.2%) followed by machinery including computers (up 58.9%).

The two leading decliners were exported inorganic chemicals (down -18.5%) and sugar or sugar confectionery (down -8.6%).

At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, Zambia’s most valuable exported products are unrefined copper (47.9% of the total) and refined copper (24.5%). Those two items are far ahead of Zambia’s other exported commodities including sulphuric acid (1.9%) and cobalt (1.3%).


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 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.

  1. Copper: US$6.8 billion (Up by 10.8% since 2017)
  2. Books, newspapers, pictures: $154 million (Up by 91.5%)
  3. Other base metals: $115.7 million (Down by -6%)
  4. Sugar, sugar confectionery: $112 million (Down by -12.3%)
  5. Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $100.4 million (Up by 22.6%)
  6. Stone, plaster, cement, asbestos: $98.9 million (Up by 224.8%)
  7. Gems, precious metals: $98.7 million (Up by 0.6%)
  8. Food industry waste, animal fodder: $58.9 million (Up by 57.4%)
  9. Cotton: $47.2 million (Up by 28.6%)
  10. Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $32.9 million (Up by 309.7%)

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 -$404.3 million trade deficit during 2018, a -30.8% reduction from the -$584.3 million deficit for 2017.

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. Machinery including computers: -US$1.3 billion (Up by 20.6% since 2017)
  2. Mineral fuels including oil: -$1.3 billion (Up by 2.6%)
  3. Ores, slag, ash: -$1.2 billion (Up by 22.8%)
  4. Vehicles: -$773.3 million (Up by 68.1%)
  5. Electrical machinery, equipment: -$548.5 million (Up by 42.5%)
  6. Fertilizers: -$409.6 million (Down by -22.9%)
  7. Articles of iron or steel: -$339.5 million (Up by 32.5%)
  8. Plastics, plastic articles: -$300 million (Up by 37.5%)
  9. Pharmaceuticals: -$269.9 million (Up by 56%)
  10. Other chemical goods: -$200.6 million (Up by 22.4%)

Zambia has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for agricultural machinery, heavy machinery like bulldozers and excavators, computers and other types of machinery.


Zambian Export Companies

Not one Zambian corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000.

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.

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

Research Sources:
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on March 3, 2019

International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on July 3, 2019

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on March 3, 2019

Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on July 3, 2019

Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 3, 2019

Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on July 3, 2019

Wikipedia, List of Companies of Zambia. Accessed on March 3, 2019

Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on July 3, 2019