Year over year, that dollar amount represents a -5.7% decrease in Ethiopian export sales from 2019 to 2020.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2020, the Ethiopian birr has depreciated by -60.7% against the US dollar since 2016 and retreated by -74% from 2019 to 2020. Ethiopia’s weaker local currency made Ethiopian exports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively less expensive for international buyers.
Ethiopia’s biggest export products by value in 2020 were coffee, oil seeds, miscellaneous fresh or chilled vegetables, fresh or dried flowers for bouquets or ornamental purposes, and dried shelled vegetables. In aggregate, those major exported goods account for 71.6% of Ethiopia’s overall exports sales. That percentage suggests a highly concentrated range of exported goods.
Ethiopia’s Major Trading Partners
The latest available country-specific data shows that 70.6% of products exported from Ethiopia were bought by importers in: Somalia (11.6% of the global total), United States (10.2%), Netherlands (7.5%), Saudi Arabia (7.4%), United Arab Emirates (6.7%), Germany (5.5%), Djibouti (4.3%), Israel (3.9%), Japan (3.8%), China (3.6%), Belgium (3.3%) and Vietnam (2.8%).
From a continental perspective, 44% of Ethiopia’s exports by value were delivered to Asian countries while 23.2% were sold to importers in Europe. Ethiopia shipped another 20.9% worth of goods to Africa.
Smaller percentages went to North America (11%), Oceania led by Australia (0.8%) and Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.1%).
Given Ethiopia’s population of 97.2 million people, its total $2.53 billion in 2020 exports translates to roughly $25 for every resident in the northeast African nation.
Ethiopia’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Ethiopian global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Ethiopia.
- Coffee, tea, spices: US$812 million (32.1% of total exports)
- Vegetables: $553.3 million (21.9%)
- Oil seeds: $439.4 million (17.4%)
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $216.7 million (8.6%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $87.5 million (3.5%)
- Meat: $66.6 million (2.6%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $48 million (1.9%)
- Live animals: $42.4 million (1.7%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $35.1 million (1.4%)
- Machinery including computers: $28.7 million (1.1%)
Ethiopia’s top 10 exports are concentrated, accounting for 92.2% of the overall value of Ethiopian global shipments.
Knit or crochet clothing and accessories was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 18% from 2019 to 2020.
In second place for improving export sales was oil seeds via a 4.7% gain.
The only other increase among Ethiopia’s top shipments was for vegetables, up by a modest 1%.
The leading decliner among Ethiopia’s top 10 export categories was machinery including computers, thanks to its -56.7% drop year over year.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, coffee represents Ethiopia’s most valuable exported product at 31.5% of the country’s total. In second place were oil seeds (15.4%) trailed by miscellaneous fresh or chilled vegetables (10.2%), fresh or dried flowers for bouquets or ornamental purposes (7.5%), dried shelled vegetables (7%), sweet potatoes and similar root vegetables (2.9%), sheep or goat meat (2.5%), soya beans (1.5%), miscellaneous live plants (1%) and knitted or crocheted t-shirts and vests (also 1%).
The following types of Ethiopian 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.
- Coffee, tea, spices: US$802.7 million (Down by -0.5% since 2019)
- Vegetables: $436.4 million (Down by -5.7%)
- Oil seeds: $423 million (Up by 3.9%)
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $213 million (Down by -4.8%)
- Meat: $66 million (Down by -14.3%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $47.5 million (Up by 194%)
- Live animals: $34.3 million (Down by -32.6%)
- Raw hides, skins not furskins, leather: $27.4 million (Down by -53.9%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $5.5 million (Down by -26.6%)
- Miscellaneous animal-origin products: $1.4 million (Up by 7.3%)
Ethiopia has highly positive net exports in the international trade of coffee. In turn, these cashflows indicate Ethiopia’s strong competitive advantages under the coffee, tea and spices product category.
Overall Ethiopia incurred a -$11.6 billion trade deficit during 2020, resulting from a -10% drop from the -$12.9 billion in red ink one year earlier in 2019.
Below are exports from Ethiopia that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Ethiopia’s goods trail its importer spending on foreign products.
- Machinery including computers: -US$1.8 billion (Down by -18.8% since 2019)
- Mineral fuels including oil: -$1.72 billion (Down by -34.8%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$1.1 billion (Down by -0.8%)
- Vehicles: -$1 billion (Down by -11.7%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: -$894.6 million (Up by 108.1%)
- Cereals: -$858.4 million (Up by 10.1%)
- Iron, steel: -$706.5 million (Down by -30.4%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$633.5 million (Down by -8.3%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$578.8 million (Down by -9.2%)
- Fertilizers: -$507.4 million (Up by 0.7%)
Ethiopia has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the machinery including computers category as well as mineral fuels including oil.
Ethiopian Export Companies
Given that Ethiopia is an emerging economy, it should come as no surprise that not one Ethiopian corporation appears on the Forbes Global 2000 list.
Wikipedia does document some Ethiopian export companies. Selected examples are shown below.
- Ambo Mineral Water (bottled mineral water)
- Ethio Telecom (mobile, fixed line, broadband services)
- Marathon Motors Engineering (automobiles)
- Yebbo Communication Network (software, websites)
- Yousran International (sesame seeds, spice seeds, edible oils)
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following companies are examples of Ethiopian exporters representing diverse industries.
- A Oil Seeds and Cereals Export (beans including kidney beans)
- Haicof Limited (coffee)
- Harar Brewery Share (malt beer)
- Max Export (polypropylene)
- Packtra (polyesters, lamps)
In macroeconomic terms, Ethiopia’s total exported goods represent 0.9% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($293.5 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 0.9% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2020 compares to 1.1% for 2020. Those metrics suggest a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Ethiopia’s total economic performance, albeit based on relatively short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Egypt’s average unemployment rate was 21% for 2020 up from 19.5% one year earlier, as estimated by Trading Economics.
Ethiopia’s capital city is Addis Ababa.
See also Nigeria’s Top 10 Exports and Ethiopia’s Top 10 Imports
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles. Accessed on June 23, 2021
Forbes, Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on June 23, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Databases (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on June 23, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on June 23, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on June 23, 2021
The World Bank, Official Exchange Rate (LCU per US$, period average) – Ethiopia. Accessed on June 23, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Ethiopia. Accessed on June 23, 2021
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on June 23, 2021