Formerly called Northern Rhodesia until its independence from Britain in 1964, the Republic of Zambia exported US$6.9 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects a -0.4% drop since 2015 and a -23.2% decline from 2018 to 2019.
Zambia is a landlocked nation in Africa’s southern region.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2019, the Zambian kwacha depreciated by -49.3% against the US dollar since 2015 and declined by -23.2% from 2018 to 2019. Zambia’s weaker local currency makes its exports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively less expensive for international buyers.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 95.8% of products exported from Zambia were bought by importers in: Switzerland (41.7% of the global total), China (21.6%), Democratic Republic of Congo (12.4%), Singapore (8.4%), South Africa (4.2%), Zimbabwe (1.4%), Malawi (also 1.4%), Hong Kong (1.1%), Luxembourg (1%), Kenya (0.9%), Tanzania (0.8%) and India (also 0.8%).
From a continental perspective, 43.9% of Zambia’s exports by value were delivered to European countries while 32.9% were sold to importers in Asia. Zambia shipped another 23.1% worth of goods to fellow African nations. Tinier percentages went to North America (0.1%), Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.02%) then Oceania led by Australia (also 0.02%).
Given Zambia’s population of 18.3 million people, its total $6.9 billion in 2019 exports translates to approximately $380 for every resident in the African nation.
Zambia’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Zambian global shipments during 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Zambia.
- Copper: US$5 billion (72.6% of total exports)
- Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $232.1 million (3.3%)
- Gems, precious metals: $230.4 million (3.3%)
- Inorganic chemicals: $169.5 million (2.4%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $141.6 million (2%)
- Machinery including computers: $139 million (2%)
- Iron, steel: $81 million (1.2%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $70.4 million (1%)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $69.7 million (1%)
- Soaps, washing preparations, lubricants, waxes: $55.3 million (0.8%)
The African nation’s top 10 exports in 2019 accounted for 89.7% of the overall value of Zambian global shipments.
Gems and precious metals was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 119.7% from 2018 to 2019 and propelled by higher international sales of precious and semi-precious stones.
In second place for improving export sales was the salt, sulphur, stone and cement category via a 21.8% gain. Zambia’s shipments of sugar including sugar confectionery posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 13.5%.
The leading decliner among Zambia’s top 10 export categories was tobacco and manufactured substitutes thanks to a -33.4% drop year over year.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, Zambia’s most valuable exported products are unrefined copper (54.1% of the total) and refined copper (16.4%). Exported copper ranks far ahead of Zambia’s other exported commodities including sulphuric acid (2.1%), precious and semi-precious stones (2%) then sugar (1.7%).
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.
- Copper: US$5 billion (Down by -26.1% since 2018)
- Gems, precious metals: $220.6 million (Up by 123.8%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $131.5 million (Up by 17.7%)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $68 million (Down by -32.3%)
- Cotton: $51.6 million (Up by 9.6%)
- Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $50.5 million (Down by -2027.1%)
- Other base metals: $41.3 million (Down by -64.3%)
- Food industry waste, animal fodder: $27.3 million (Down by -53.6%)
- Lead: $19.3 million (Up by 89.7%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $17.3 million (Down by -47.3%)
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 -$259.5 million trade deficit during 2019, a -36.6% reduction from the -$409.6 million deficit for 2018.
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.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$1.2 billion (Up by 0.02% since 2018)
- Machinery including computers: -$994.1 million (Down by -21.3%)
- Vehicles: -$545.1 million (Down by -29.4%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$402.6 million (Down by -26.5%)
- Fertilizers: -$309.7 million (Down by -24.3%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$279.4 million (Down by -6.7%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$268.4 million (Down by -20.8%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$204.5 million (Down by -24.1%)
- Other chemical goods: -$196.5 million (Down by -1.9%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: -$128.3 million (Down by -12%)
Zambia has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for petroleum oils, coke and other petroleum residues under the mineral fuels including oil product category.
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)
In macroeconomic terms, Zambia’s total exported goods represent 9.1% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($76 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 9.1% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2019 compares to 12.4% for 2018. This suggests a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Zambia’s total economic performance albeit based on a short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Zambia’s unemployment rate was forecasted to be an estimated 14.7% for 2020 by Trading Economics.
Zambia’s capital city is Lusaka.
See also Zambia’s Top Trading Partners and Top African Export Countries
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Africa: Zambia. Accessed on March 31, 2020
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on March 31, 2020
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on March 31, 2020
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on March 31, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on March 31, 2020
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 31, 2020
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on March 31, 2020
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Zambia. Accessed on March 31, 2020
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on March 31, 2020
Wikipedia, Zambia. Accessed on March 31, 2020