Based on the average exchange rate for 2021, the Australian dollar depreciated by -2.3% against the US dollar since 2017 but strengthened by 8.3% from 2020 to 2021. Australia’s stronger local currency since 2020 makes its exports paid for in weaker US dollars relatively more expensive for international buyers that pay in American currency.
Australia’s biggest export products by value in 2021 were iron ores and concentrates, coal and solid fuels made from coal, petroleum gases, gold and crude oil. In aggregate, those 5 major exports account for 64.7% of overall exports sales from Australia. That relatively large percentage suggests a concentrated range of exported goods.
Australia is a world leader for exporting iron, coal and petroleum gases.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 70.8% of products exported from Australia were bought by importers in: mainland China (35.6% of the global total), Japan (7.5%), South Korea (5.2%), India (5.1%), United States (4%), Taiwan (2.8%), Singapore (2.7%), New Zealand (2.2%), Hong Kong (also 2.2%), Vietnam (1.8%), Indonesia (1.7%) and Thailand (1.3%).
From a continental perspective, 84.3% of Australia exports by value were delivered to Asian countries while 5.5% were sold to importers in Europe. Australia shipped another 4.8% worth of goods to North America.
Smaller percentages went to Oceania (3.8%) led by New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, Africa (0.8%) and Latin America (also 0.8%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean.
Given Australia’s population of 25.7 million people, its total $345 billion in 2021 exported products translates to roughly $13,400 for every resident in the largest country in the Oceania continent. That dollar amount is much higher than the per-capita average of $9,900 in 2020.
Many people overlook the geographic 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 2021. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Australia.
- Ores, slag, ash: US$132.1 billion (38.3% of total exports)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $91 billion (26.4%)
- Gems, precious metals: $20.7 billion (6%)
- Meat: $11.6 billion (3.4%)
- Cereals: $10.1 billion (2.9%)
- Inorganic chemicals: $6.4 billion (1.9%)
- Machinery including computers: $4.8 billion (1.4%)
- Aluminum: $4.7 billion (1.4%)
- Copper: $3.9 billion (1.1%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $3.7 billion (1.1%)
Australia’s top 10 exports accounted for well over four-fifths (83.7%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Cereals was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 164.1% since 2020.
In second place for improving export sales was aluminum which was up by 52.6%.
Australia’s shipments of ores, slag and ash posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 45.6% year over year.
The most modest advance among Australia’s top 10 export categories was for gems and precious metals thanks to its 5.6% gain.
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 $96.6 billion surplus in 2021 up by 84.9% from $52.3 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$131.2 billion (Up by 45.4% since 2020)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $65.3 billion (Up by 33.2%)
- Gems, precious metals: $13 billion (Up by 19.6%)
- Meat: $10.9 billion (Up by 10.9%)
- Cereals: $9.9 billion (Up by 188.9%)
- Inorganic chemicals: $5.4 billion (Up by 21.9%)
- Oil seeds: $2.8 billion (Up by 156.7%)
- Copper: $2.8 billion (Up by 34.5%)
- Wool: $2.5 billion (Up by 61.6%)
- Aluminum: $2.3 billion (Up by 81.5%)
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$32 billion (Up by 22.3% since 2020)
- Vehicles: -$31.8 billion (Up by 40.6%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$24.5 billion (Up by 17%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$8.3 billion (Up by 58.2%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$6.4 billion (Up by 16.3%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: -$5.8 billion (Up by 13.8%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting , signs, prefab buildings: -$5.3 billion (Up by 18.1%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$5 billion (Up by 27%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$3.8 billion (Up by 30.2%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: -$3.5 billion (Up by 19.2%)
Australia has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for machinery including computers, notably turbo-jets, machinery parts and centrifuges including centrifugal dryers.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Australia’s competitive disadvantages in the international machinery market, but also represent key opportunities for Australia to improve its position in the global economy through focused innovations.
Australian Export Companies
Listed below are some of the larger international trade players for Australia.
- BHP Billiton (diversified metals)
- Fortescue Metals Group (iron, steel)
- Woodside Petroleum (oil, gas)
- CSL Limited (biotech)
- Amcor (containers, packaging)
- Santos (oil, gas)
- Orica (diversified metals)
- Newcrest Mining (diversified metals)
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following companies are also examples of Australian exporters.
- Australia Meat Holdings (bovine meat, offal)
- Spiral Guard Australia (plastic items, tubes/pipes/hoses, plates/sheets/film/foil)
- Maersk Logistics Australia (wine, malt beer)
- Elektromotive Australia (bicycles, motorcycles)
Searchable List of Australia’s Most Valuable Export Products
The following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from Australia during 2021. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2020.
|Rank||Australia's Export Product||2021 Value (US$)||Change|
|1||Iron ores, concentrates||$116,976,417,000||+49.3%|
|2||Coal, solid fuels made from coal||$43,609,440,000||+33.3%|
|8||Copper ores, concentrates||$5,838,882,000||+26.6%|
|11||Sheep or goat meat||$3,379,412,000||+24.1%|
|12||Refined copper, unwrought alloys||$3,253,816,000||+36.4%|
|13||Fresh or chilled beef||$2,980,824,000||+8.7%|
|14||Wool (uncarded, uncombed)||$2,559,000,000||+61%|
|15||Processed petroleum oils||$2,314,548,000||+48.9%|
|19||Zinc ores, concentrates||$1,890,628,000||+38.2%|
|21||Cotton (uncarded, uncombed)||$1,478,449,000||+376.3%|
|22||Precious metal ores, concentrates||$1,476,519,000||+16.8%|
|23||Dried shelled vegetables||$1,444,147,000||+58%|
|25||Phone system devices||$1,237,125,000||+13%|
|26||Medication mixes in dosage||$1,232,980,000||-24.7%|
|28||Concentrated/sweetened milk, cream||$1,074,798,000||+54.4%|
|29||Live bovine cattle||$1,056,294,000||-6.9%|
|30||Aluminum ores, concentrates||$1,034,608,000||-3.1%|
|31||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$1,019,081,000||-40.8%|
|32||Iron or steel scrap||$980,184,000||+57.7%|
|34||Red meat offal||$855,942,000||+30.2%|
|36||Fuel wood, wood chips, sawdust||$817,143,000||+16%|
|40||Other food preparations||$751,071,000||-6.5%|
|41||Computers, optical readers||$738,563,000||+13.7%|
|43||Lead ores, concentrates||$696,088,000||+24.2%|
|44||Miscellaneous parts, accessories||$678,523,000||+28.8%|
|45||Flour/meal/starch/malt extract food preparations||$662,133,000||-18.9%|
|46||Other coloring matter, luminophores||$660,601,000||+36.8%|
|47||Aluminum waste, scrap||$647,912,000||+80.5%|
|48||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$628,194,000||+16.1%|
|49||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$538,478,000||+5%|
|50||Hay, alfalfa, clover||$532,997,000||+32.5%|
|52||Copper waste, scrap||$492,336,000||+83.9%|
|53||Bovine, sheep, goat fats||$485,485,000||+60.5%|
|55||Nickel ores, concentrates||$444,163,000||+47.8%|
|57||Grapes (fresh or dried)||$403,041,000||-14.9%|
|58||Uncoated kraft paper||$373,793,000||+26.1%|
|60||Fresh or dried citrus fruit||$355,342,000||+7.2%|
|62||Miscellaneous animal feed preparations||$327,835,000||+32%|
|63||Crustaceans (including lobsters)||$313,972,000||-21.2%|
|64||Whole fish (fresh)||$310,807,000||+32.1%|
|66||Not concentrated/unsweetened milk, cream||$304,494,000||+21.8%|
|67||Liquid pumps and elevators||$299,398,000||+26.2%|
|71||Chocolate, other cocoa preparations||$271,699,000||+12.9%|
|74||Metal-containing ash, residues||$255,195,000||+8.1%|
|75||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$249,782,000||+40.6%|
|76||Tin ores, concentrates||$247,405,000||+103.9%|
|77||Sheep/lamb rawhides, skins||$238,637,000||+41.7%|
|78||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$238,105,000||+13.8%|
|80||Paper/paperboard waste, scrap||$233,213,000||+74.6%|
|81||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$227,636,000||+7.8%|
|84||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$217,208,000||+23.5%|
|87||Computer parts, accessories||$202,858,000||+22.4%|
|89||Yachts, other pleasure/sports vessels||$200,796,000||-5.1%|
|91||Electrical converters/power units||$190,062,000||+26.8%|
|92||Other diagnostic/lab reagents||$188,509,000||+87.8%|
|93||Table games, bowling equipment||$187,607,000||+11.8%|
|95||Bovine/equine rawhides, skins||$179,964,000||+44.4%|
|97||Animal guts, bladders, stomachs||$167,428,000||+25.2%|
|98||Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries||$167,036,000||+19.4%|
|100||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$162,554,000||+40.4%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$313.9 billion or 91% by value for all products exported from the Land Down Under during 2021.
In macroeconomic terms, Australia’s total exported goods represent 24.2% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2021 ($1.427 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars) compared to 19.4% one year earlier. Albeit based on a short timeframe, those metrics seem to indicate a relatively increasing 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 5.227% at October 2021, down from an average 6.492% for 2021 according to International Monetary Fund statistics.
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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