A landlocked nation in southern Africa, the Republic of Zimbabwe shipped an estimated US$4.3 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects a 57.9% gain since 2015 and a 5.7% increase from 2018 to 2019.
Based on the average exchange rate for fourth quarter 2019, the Zimbabwean dollar depreciated by -538.4% against the US dollar since February 2019 and deteriorated by -50.8% from third quarter to fourth quarter 2019. Zimbabwe’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 82.9% of products exported from Zimbabwe were bought by importers in: South Africa (49.1% of the global total), United Arab Emirates (19.5%), Mozambique (8.3%), Belgium (1.5%), Zambia (1.4%), Botswana (1%), Kenya (0.8%), Eswatini (0.6%), Namibia (0.3%), Hong Kong (0.2%), Malawi (0.1%) and China (also 0.1%).
From a continental perspective, 74% of Zimbabwe’s exports by value were delivered to fellow African countries while 23.9% were sold to importers in Asia. Zimbabwe shipped another 2% worth of goods to Europe. Tinier percentages went to North America (0.1%), Oceania led by Australia (0.002%) and Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.001%).
Given Zimbabwe’s population of 14.9 million people, its total $4 billion in 2019 exports translates to roughly $300 for every resident in the southern African country.
Zimbabwe’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Zimbabwean global shipments during 2019 at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Zimbabwe.
- Gems, precious metals: US$1.4 billion (32.9% of total exports)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $818.1 million (19.2%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $788.2 million (18.5%)
- Nickel: $488.5 million (11.4%)
- Iron, steel: $232 million (5.4%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $62.8 million (1.5%)
- Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $49.2 million (1.2%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $48.2 million (1.1%)
- Cotton: $41.6 million (1%)
- Fruits, nuts: $33.8 million (0.8%)
Zimbabwe’s top 10 exports accounted for 92.9% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Ores, slag and ash represents the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 58.5% year over year since 2018. In second place for improving export sales was sugar including sugar confectionery via a 41.1% increase. Zimbabwe’s shipments of mineral fuels including oil posted the third-fastest gain in value thanks to its 18.1% gain.
The severest decline belongs to Zimbabwean exports of cotton, dropping -44.8% year over year.
From the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, in 2019 Zimbabwe’s most valuable exported products were unrefined gold (24.9% of global total), unmanufactured tobacco including tobacco waste (18.1%), nickel ores and concentrates (17.3%), nickel matte and oxide sinters (11.4%), iron ferroalloys (5.3%), jewelry (3.8%), raw diamonds (2.7%), sugar (1.4%), unrefined platinum (also 1.4%) then chromium ores and concentrates (1.1%).
The following types of Zimbabwean 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.
- Gems, precious metals: US$1.4 billion (Up by 4.2% since 2018)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $802 million (Down by -7.6%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $785.9 million (Up by 58.4%)
- Nickel: $488.3 million (Down by -7%)
- Iron, steel: $117.7 million (Up by 11.7%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $60.5 million (Up by 71.1%)
- Cotton: $37.4 million (Down by -47.3%)
- Fruits, nuts: $33 million (Up by 34.1%)
- Raw hides, skins not furskins, leather: $30.5 million (Down by -13.4%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $23.7 million (Down by -2.9%)
Zimbabwe has highly positive net exports in the international trade of gold. In turn, these cashflows indicate Zimbabwe’s strong competitive advantages under the gems and precious metals category.
Overall Zimbabwe racked up a -$528.7 million trade deficit during 2019, down by -76.2% from -$2.2 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Zimbabwe that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Zimbabwe’s goods trail Zimbabwean importer spending on foreign products.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$1.4 billion (Down by -22.3% since 2018)
- Machinery including computers: -$542.8 million (Down by -4.6%)
- Vehicles: -$365.5 million (Down by -38.7%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$203.7 million (Down by -4.7%)
- Fertilizers: -$194.2 million (Down by -33.3%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$186.6 million (Down by -16.3%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$176.8 million (Down by -30.8%)
- Other chemical goods: -$145.9 million (Down by -27.4%)
- Cereals: -$133.8 million (Down by -49.8%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$109.4 million (Up by 5.4%)
Zimbabwe has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for mineral fuels-related products notably refined petroleum oils, electricity and petroleum gases.
Zimbabwean Export Companies
Not one Zimbabwean corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000.
Wikipedia also lists exporters from Zimbabwe. Selected examples are shown below.
- Border Timbers (forestry products)
- Colcom Foods Limited (meat processing)
- Cotton Company of Zimbabwe (cotton lint, cottonseed)
- Dairibord Zimbabwe Ltd (milk, other dairy products)
- Hippo Valley Estate (sugar)
- Sable Chemicals (fertilizer, ammonia nitrate)
- Tanganda Tea (tea, coffee)
- Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (iron, steel)
In macroeconomic terms, Zimbabwe’s total exported goods represent 10.6% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($40.3 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 10.6% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2019 compares to 9.5% for 2018. These percentages suggest a relatively increasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Zimbabwe’s total economic performance.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate was forecasted to be an estimated average 4.9% for 2019 down from 5.4% at June 2019, according to estimates from Trading Economics.
Zimbabwe’s capital city is Harare.
See also Zimbabwe’s Top 10 Imports, Top African Export Countries, Top South African Trading Partners and Nigeria’s Top 10 Exports
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, Africa: Zimbabwe. Accessed on April 18, 2020
Forbes 2019 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on April 18, 2020
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on April 18, 2020
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on April 18, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on April 18, 2020
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on April 18, 2020
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on April 18, 2020
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Zimbabwe. Accessed on April 18, 2020
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on April 18, 2020
Wikipedia, Zimbabwe. Accessed on April 18, 2020