Zimbabwe’s Top 10 Exports

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A landlocked nation in southern Africa, the Republic of Zimbabwe shipped an estimated US$4 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2018. That dollar amount reflects a 31.8% gain since 2014 and a 16% upturn from 2017 to 2018.

The latest data shows that 84.6% of products exported from Zimbabwe were bought by importers in: South Africa (51.5% of the global total), United Arab Emirates (18.1%), Mozambique (9.7%), Zambia (1.6%), Belgium (1%), China (0.9%), Botswana (0.8%), Kenya (0.5%), Namibia (0.2%) and Malawi (also 0.2%).

From a continental perspective, 64.6% of Zimbabwe’s exports by value were delivered to fellow African countries while 19.1% were sold to Asian importers. Smaller percentages went to Europe (1.5%), North American (0.1%), Oceania (0.005%) led by Australia then Latin America (0.001%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean.

Given Zimbabwe’s population of 14 million people, its total $4 billion in 2018 exports translates to roughly $300 for every resident in the African country.

In macroeconomic terms, Zimbabwe’s total exported goods represent 9.5% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2018 ($42.5 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 9.5% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2018 compares to 11.2% for 2014, seeming to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Zimbabwe’s total economic performance. And while this article focuses on exported goods, it is interesting to note that Zimbabwe also provided $502.8 million worth of exports-related services to global customers for an additional 1.2% of GDP in PPP.

Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate was forecast to be 5.4% at June 2019, according to estimates from Trading Economics.

Zimbabwe’s Top 10 Exports

Top 10

The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Zimbabwean global shipments during 2018 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.

  1. Gems, precious metals: US$1.3 billion (33.4% of total exports)
  2. Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $893.1 million (22.1%)
  3. Nickel: $525.3 million (13%)
  4. Ores, slag, ash: $497.2 million (12.3%)
  5. Iron, steel: $251.8 million (6.2%)
  6. Cotton: $75.4 million (1.9%)
  7. Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $55 million (1.4%)
  8. Sugar, sugar confectionery: $44.5 million (1.1%)
  9. Mineral fuels including oil: $40.8 million (1%)
  10. Raw hides, skins not furskins, leather: $36.8 million (0.9%)

Zimbabwe’s top 10 exports accounted for 93.3% of the overall value of its global shipments.

Cotton was the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up by 119.6% year over year since 2017.

In second place for improving export sales was mineral fuels including oil which was up by 60.8% led by coal coke or semi-coke and peat lignite.

Zimbabwe’s shipments of raw hides, skins not furskins plus leather posted the third-fastest gain in value thanks to its 56% gain.

From the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, gold represents Zimbabwe ’s most valuable exported product at 28.3% of the country’s total. In second place was unmanufactured tobacco and tobacco waste (21.4%) trailed by nickel matte and oxide sinters (13%), nickel ores or concentrates (9.8%), iron ferroalloys (6.1%), chromium ores or concentrates (2.3%), unmounted and unset diamonds (2.3%), jewelry (1.7%), uncarded and uncombed cotton (also 1.7%) then platinum (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.

  1. Gems, precious metals: US$1.3 billion (Up by 32.1% since 2017)
  2. Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $868.1 million (Up by 6.2%)
  3. Nickel: $525.2 million (Reversing a -$52.8 million deficit)
  4. Ores, slag, ash: $496.2 million (Up by 6%)
  5. Iron, steel: $105.3 million (Down by -41.6%)
  6. Cotton: $70.9 million (Up by 146.8%)
  7. Sugar, sugar confectionery: $35.4 million (Down by -19.4%)
  8. Raw hides, skins not furskins, leather: $35.2 million (Up by 56.3%)
  9. Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $28.6 million (Up by 12.4%)
  10. Fruits, nuts: $24.6 million (Up by 62.1%)

Zimbabwe has highly positive net exports in the international trade of tobacco and related goods. In turn, these cashflows indicate Zimbabwe’s strong competitive advantages under the tobacco and manufactured substitutes product category.


Overall Zimbabwe ran a -$2.2 billion trade deficit during 2018, up by 49.9% from -$1.5 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.

  1. Mineral fuels including oil: -US$1.8 billion (Up by 24.1% since 2017)
  2. Vehicles: -$596.6 million (Up by 84.5%)
  3. Machinery including computers: -$569.1 million (Up by 27%)
  4. Fertilizers: -$291.2 million (Up by 47.1%)
  5. Cereals: -$266.4 million (Down by -6.2%)
  6. Plastics, plastic articles: -$255.4 million (Up by 48.1%)
  7. Electrical machinery, equipment: -$222.8 million (Down by -18.4%)
  8. Pharmaceuticals: -$213.7 million (Up by 39.3%)
  9. Other chemical goods: -$201 million (Up by 51.7%)
  10. Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: -$151.2 million (Up by 18.1%)

Zimbabwe has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for mineral fuels-related products led by refined petroleum oils.


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)


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

Research Sources:
Forbes 2018 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on April 26, 2019

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

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

Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on April 26, 2019

The World Factbook, Africa: Zimbabwe. Accessed on April 26, 2019

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

Wikipedia, List of Companies of Zimbabwe. Accessed on April 26, 2019

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

Wikipedia, Zimbabwe. Accessed on April 26, 2019