Based on the average exchange rate for 2020, the Australian dollar depreciated by -8% against the US dollar since 2016 and declined by -1% from 2019 to 2020. Australia’s weaker local currency makes its exports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively less expensive for international buyers.
Australia’s biggest export products by value in 2020 were iron, coal, petroleum gases, gold and aluminum. In aggregate, those major exports account for 63.1% of overall exports sales from Australia. That relatively large percentage suggests a concentrated range of exported goods.
Australia leads the world for exporting iron, coal and petroleum gases.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 85.6% of products exported from Australia were bought by importers in: China (43% of the global total), Japan (9%), United States (6.2%), South Korea (6.2%), United Kingdom (4.9%), India (3.4%), New Zealand (3.3%), Singapore (2.6%), Taiwan (2.6%), Hong Kong (2.2%), Vietnam (2.1%) and Indonesia (1.6%).
From a continental perspective, 78.2% of Australia exports by value were delivered to Asian countries while 9.5% were sold to importers in Europe. Australia shipped another 6.7% worth of goods to North America with another 4.3% going to fellow Oceania nations led by New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. Smaller percentages went to Africa (0.7%) then Latin America (0.5%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean.
Given Australia’s population of 25.7 million people, its total $254.3 billion in 2020 exported products translates to roughly $9,900 for every resident in the largest country in the Oceania continent.
Many people overlook the fact that Australia is a sovereign nation located in the Southern Hemisphere comprised of the Australian continental mainland plus Tasmania and many smaller islands.
Australia’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups categorize the highest dollar value in Australian global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Australia.
- Ores, slag, ash: US$91.3 billion (35.9% of total exports)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $65.4 billion (25.7%)
- Gems, precious metals: $19.6 billion (7.7%)
- Meat: $10.4 billion (4.1%)
- Inorganic chemicals: $5.2 billion (2%)
- Machinery including computers: $4.4 billion (1.7%)
- Cereals: $3.8 billion (1.5%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $3.4 billion (1.4%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $3.1 billion (1.2%)
- Aluminum: $3.1 billion (1.2%)
Australia’s top 10 exports accounted for over four-fifths (82.4%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Ores, slag, ash was the fastest-grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 15.8% year over year since 2019. In second place for improving export sales was cereals which was up by 10.5% led by wheat and barley. Australia’s shipments of gems and precious metals posted the third-fastest gain in value, up by 8.5% year over year led by gold and silver.
The leading decliner among Australia’s top 10 export categories was mineral fuels including oil which fell -26.4%, weighed down by lower revenues for coal, petroleum gases and oil.
Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more granular view of exported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the section Searchable List of Australia’s Most Valuable Export Products further down near the bottom of this article.
Overall Australia generated a $51.5 billion surplus in 2020 down by -11.7% from $58.3 billion one year earlier.
The following types of Australian 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.
- Ores, slag, ash: US$90.7 billion (Up by 15.9% since 2019)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $48.5 billion (Down by -21.4%)
- Gems, precious metals: $10.9 billion (Down by -4.6%)
- Meat: $9.8 billion (Down by -10.3%)
- Inorganic chemicals: $4.4 billion (Down by -20%)
- Cereals: $3.4 billion (Up by 10.2%)
- Copper: $2.1 billion (Down by -11.7%)
- Wool: $1.5 billion (Down by -30.5%)
- Aluminum: $1.3 billion (Down by -10.9%)
- Live animals: $1.2 billion (Down by -10.6%)
Australia has highly positive net exports in the international trade of iron ores, and also for copper, zinc, precious metals and aluminum ores and concentrates. In turn, these cashflows indicate Australia’s strong competitive advantages under the ores, slag and ash product category.
Below are exports from Australia that are negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Australia’s goods trail Australian importer spending on foreign products.
- Machinery including computers: -US$26.3 billion (Up by 1.7% since 2019)
- Vehicles: -$22.8 billion (Down by -10.1%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$21 billion (Down by -0.3%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$5.5 billion (Up by 10%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$5.3 billion (Up by 14.8%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: -$5.1 billion (Up by 6.4%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefabricated buildings: -$4.5 billion (Up by 4.7%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$3.9 billion (Up by 2.4%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$3.2 billion (Down by -0.3%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: -$2.9 billion (Up by 0.8%)
Australia has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for machinery including computers, notably turbo-jets, machinery parts and centrifuges including centrifugal dryers.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Australia’s competitive disadvantages in the international machinery market, but also represent key opportunities for Australia to improve its position in the global economy through focused innovations.
Australian Export Companies
Listed below are some of the larger international trade players for Australia.
- BHP Billiton (diversified metals)
- Fortescue Metals Group (iron, steel)
- Woodside Petroleum (oil, gas)
- CSL Limited (biotech)
- Amcor (containers, packaging)
- Santos (oil, gas)
- Orica (diversified metals)
- Newcrest Mining (diversified metals)
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following companies are also examples of Australian exporters.
- Australia Meat Holdings (bovine meat, offal)
- Spiral Guard Australia (plastic items, tubes/pipes/hoses, plates/sheets/film/foil)
- Maersk Logistics Australia (wine, malt beer)
- Elektromotive Australia (bicycles, motorcycles)
Searchable List of Australia’s Most Valuable Export Products
The following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from Australia during 2020. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2019.
|Rank||Australia's Export Product||2020 Value (US$)||Change|
|1||Iron ores, concentrates||$78,830,087,000||+19.7%|
|2||Coal, solid fuels made from coal||$32,477,570,000||-26.9%|
|6||Copper ores, concentrates||$4,628,138,000||+8.8%|
|9||Fresh or chilled beef||$2,739,824,000||+1.3%|
|10||Sheep or goat meat||$2,716,393,000||-11.8%|
|13||Refined copper, unwrought alloys||$2,391,709,000||-11.5%|
|15||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$1,704,397,000||+0.2%|
|16||Medication mixes in dosage||$1,628,042,000||-15.6%|
|17||Wool (uncarded, uncombed)||$1,575,745,000||-30%|
|18||Processed petroleum oils||$1,557,774,000||-13.2%|
|19||Zinc ores, concentrates||$1,366,044,000||-22.4%|
|20||Precious metal ores, concentrates||$1,276,157,000||+26.4%|
|22||Live bovine cattle||$1,131,579,000||-9.4%|
|23||Phone system devices||$1,099,533,000||-6.4%|
|24||Aluminum ores, concentrates||$1,062,515,000||-9.5%|
|27||Dried shelled vegetables||$913,051,000||+31.2%|
|29||Flour/meal/starch/malt extract food preparations||$804,582,000||-23.2%|
|30||Other food preparations||$796,015,000||-6.1%|
|32||Fuel wood, wood chips, sawdust||$701,212,000||-31.6%|
|33||Concentrated/sweetened milk, cream||$695,313,000||+5.2%|
|36||Red meat offal||$656,630,000||-6.7%|
|38||Computers, optical readers||$649,215,000||-5.7%|
|40||Iron or steel scrap||$617,689,000||-16.9%|
|42||Lead ores, concentrates||$563,703,000||-16.4%|
|43||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$542,529,000||+2.1%|
|44||Miscellaneous parts, accessories||$530,812,000||-4.1%|
|45||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$515,507,000||-0.1%|
|48||Other coloring matter, luminophores||$477,977,000||-13.5%|
|49||Grapes (fresh or dried)||$440,509,000||+2.5%|
|50||Hay, alfalfa, clover||$401,034,000||+4.9%|
|55||Aluminum waste, scrap||$359,862,000||-6.2%|
|56||Fresh or dried citrus fruit||$340,904,000||-10.6%|
|58||Cotton (uncarded, uncombed)||$312,182,000||-71.6%|
|60||Nickel ores, concentrates||$300,725,000||-2.2%|
|61||Uncoated kraft paper||$295,286,000||-13.2%|
|64||Copper waste, scrap||$268,989,000||+6.4%|
|65||Not concentrated/unsweetened milk, cream||$251,812,000||+9.4%|
|66||Miscellaneous animal feed preparations||$247,642,000||-4%|
|68||Chocolate, other cocoa preparations||$241,741,000||+7.8%|
|69||Whole fish (fresh)||$239,471,000||+95%|
|70||Liquid pumps and elevators||$237,158,000||-18.4%|
|72||Metal-containing ash, residues||$233,825,000||+15.5%|
|74||Yachts, other pleasure/sports vessels||$210,911,000||-20.8%|
|75||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$210,815,000||+0.9%|
|77||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$209,465,000||-8.6%|
|83||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$178,897,000||+8.7%|
|85||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$175,432,000||-8.2%|
|87||Sheep/lamb rawhides, skins||$168,292,000||-21.3%|
|88||Table games, bowling equipment||$166,711,000||-27.4%|
|89||Computer parts, accessories||$165,687,000||-4.4%|
|92||Inedible meat flour||$151,593,000||-14.4%|
|94||Electrical converters/power units||$150,792,000||+5.9%|
|95||Hot-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products||$142,314,000||-15.1%|
|96||Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries||$140,749,000||-0.9%|
|97||Cold-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products||$136,912,000||-5.3%|
|98||Other measuring/testing machines||$133,694,000||+1.2%|
|100||Piston engine parts||$133,326,000||-7.5%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$237.8 billion or 93.5% by value for all products exported from the Land Down Under during 2020.
In macroeconomic terms, Australia’s total exported goods represent 19.4% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($1.365 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars) compared to 20% one year earlier. Albeit based on a short timeframe, those metrics seem to indicate a relatively decreasing impact of international trade on Australia’s economy.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Australia’s unemployment rate was 6.6% at December 2020, up from an average 5.144% for 2020 according to the International Monetary Fund.
Australia’s capital city is Canberra.
See also Australia’s Top 10 Imports, Australia’s Top Trading Partners and Australia’s Top 10 Major Export Companies
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