By value, Cuba’s biggest export product categories (tobacco, sugar, crude oil, nickel, ores and ash) represent 72% of the island country’s total shipments.
The latest available country-specific data from 2018 shows that 87% of products exported from Cuba were bought by importers in: Canada (23.8% of its global total), China (18.5%), Venezuela (17.6%), Spain (7.8%), Netherlands (5.2%), Singapore (3.3%), Belgium (2.2%), Hong Kong (2.1%), Germany (2%), Portugal (1.8%), France (1.6%) and Cyprus (1.1%).
Given Cuba’s population of 11.4 million people, its total $1.8 billion in 2019 exported products translates to roughly $145 for every resident in the Caribbean island country.
Cuba’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Cuban global shipments during 2020, at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Cuba.
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: US$329.5 million (19.2% of total exports)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $285.5 million (16.6%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $251.1 million (14.6%)
- Nickel: $210.1 million (12.2%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $161.5 million (9.4%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $114.4 million (6.7%)
- Fish: $77.2 million (4.5%)
- Wood: $51.9 million (3%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $21.2 million (1.2%)
- Dairy, eggs, honey: $20.1 million (1.2%)
Cuba’s top 10 exported product categories account for 88.5% of the value for the Caribbean country’s overall shipments.
Mineral fuels including oil represent the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 334.9% from 2019 to 2020.
In second place for improving export sales was nickel via a 36.2% gain.
Cuba’s shipments of sugar including sugar confectionery posted the third-fastest gain in value, up by 21%.
The leading decliner among Cuba’s top 10 export categories were pharmaceuticals, thanks to a -10.6% drop year over year.
Drilling down to the more detailed 4-digit HTS codes, Cuba’s most valuable exported goods are cigars, cigarillos and cigarettes (18.5% of its global total).
In second place was sugar (16.4%) trailed by nickel matte and oxide sinters (10.5%), alcoholic beverages (6.1%), crude petroleum oil (5.7%), zinc ores and concentrates (5.6%), high-temperature distilled coal tar (5%), lobsters and other crustaceans (4.1%), refined petroleum oils (3.7%) then precious metal ores and concentrates (3.4%).
Based on 2019 data, the following types of Cuban 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.
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: US$257 million (Down by -3.4% since 2019)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $223.4 million (Down by -2.2%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $183.4 million (Up by 930%)
- Nickel: $151.3 million (Up by 4.4%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $126.4 million (Down by -14.1%)
- Fish: $56.2 million (Down by -9.6%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $41.6 million (Up by 31.5%)
- Wood: $13.9 million (Down by -6.3%)
- Collector items, art, antiques: $6.4 million (Up by 21.2%)
- Copper: $4.4 million (Reversing a -$2.3 million surplus)
Cuba has highly positive net exports in the international trade of tobacco, as well as cane or beet sugar and chemically pure sucrose in solid form. In turn, these cashflows indicate Cuba’s strong competitive advantages under the tobacco and sugar categories above.
Overall, Cuba incurred an estimated -$1.7 billion trade deficit for 2020. That negative balance represents a -54.9% decrease from -$3.8 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Cuba that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Cuba’s goods trail Cuban importer spending on foreign products.
- Machinery including computers: -US$510.4 million (Down by -41.5% since 2019)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$302.2 million (Down by -36.3%)
- Meat: -$269.2 million (Down by -13.4%)
- Cereals: -$243.7 million (Down by -35.6%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$155.3 million (Down by -33.9%)
- Dairy, eggs, honey: -$127.1 million (Down by -19.2%)
- Vehicles: -$121.3 million (Down by -55.9%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$103.2 million (Down by -45.1%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefabricate4d buildings: -$84.9 million (Up by 28.8%)
- Other chemical goods: -$78.9 million (Down by -18.5%)
Cuba has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the machinery including computers as well as the electrical machinery and equipment category. The latter includes sound recording apparatus, recorded media and mobile phones.
Cuban Export Companies
No Cuban corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000.
Wikipedia lists exports-related companies from Cuba. Selected examples are shown below.
- Cubana de Aviación (airline)
- Cubatabaco (tobacco)
- Cuba Petróleo Unión (oil, gas)
- Havana Club (rum)
- Modelo Brewery (beer)
One key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Cuba’s average unemployment rate was forecast to be 2% for 2020, compared to 1.2% one year earlier, according to Trading Economics.
Cuba’s capital city is Havana.
See also Russia’s Top 10 Imports, Russia’s Top Trading Partners and Sugar Exports by Country
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles. Accessed on June 14, 2021
Forbes, Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on June 14, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Databases (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on June 14, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on June 14, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on June 14, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Cuba. Accessed on June 14, 2021
Wikipedia, Cuba. Accessed on June 14, 2021
WorldOMeter, Cuba Population. Accessed on June 14, 2021