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 imports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively more costly for Ethiopian buyers.
From a continental perspective, approaching three-quarters (72.7%) of Ethiopia’s total imports by value were purchased from Asian countries. European trade partners supplied 14.4% of import purchases by Ethiopia while 6% worth of goods originated from fellow African nations. At 5.7%, a smaller percentage came from North America.
Tinier percentages were sent to Ethiopia from Latin America (1.1%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean, and also Oceania (0.1%) led by Australia.
Given Ethiopia’s population of 97.2 million people, its total $14.1 billion in 2020 imports translates to roughly $150 in yearly product demand from every person in the northeast African country.
Ethiopia’s Top 10 Imports
The following product groups represent the highest dollar value in Ethiopia’s import purchases during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each product category represents in terms of overall imports into Ethiopia.
- Machinery including computers: US$1.8 billion (13% of total imports)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $1.7 billion (12.2%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $1.1 billion (7.7%)
- Vehicles: $1 billion (7.3%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $898.9 million (6.4%)
- Cereals: $863.7 million (6.1%)
- Iron, steel: $707.1 million (5%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $638.8 million (4.5%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $580.5 million (4.1%)
- Fertilizers: $507.4 million (3.6%)
By value, Ethiopia’s top 10 imports accounted for over two-thirds (69.9%) of the overall value of its product purchases from other countries.
Three top imported product categories increased in cost from 2019 to 2020. Specifically, the gainers were animal or vegetable fats, oils and waxes (up 107.9%), cereals (up 10.7%) and fertilizers (up 0.7%).
Leading the decliners were mineral fuels including oil (down -34.8%).
Please note that the results listed above are at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level. Information presented under the adjacent virtual folder tabs labeled with product groupings is at the more granular 4-digit level.
In 2020, Ethiopian importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of machinery including computers.
- Turbo-jets: US$207.1 million (up 14.1% from 2019)
- Computers, optical readers: $115.5 million (down -15.9%)
- Heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators, road rollers): $108 million (up 14%)
- Liquid pumps and elevators: $64.1 million (down -8.2%)
- Refrigerators, freezers: $61.8 million (down -5.5%)
- Centrifuges, filters and purifiers: $59.3 million (down -27.2%)
- Miscellaneous engines, motors: $55.4 million (down -67.2%)
- Miscellaneous machinery: $55.4 million (down -34%)
- Industrial preparation machinery: $52.9 million (down -31.4%)
- Lifting/loading machinery: $52.1 million (down -22.5%)
Among these import subcategories, Ethiopian purchases of turbo-jets (up 14.1%) and heavy machinery such as bulldozers, excavators and road rollers (up 14%) grew from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of machinery-related imports among Ethiopian businesses and consumers.
In 2020, Ethiopian importers spent the most on the following subcategories of mineral fuels including oil.
- Processed petroleum oils: US$1.6 billion (down -35% from 2019)
- Coal, solid fuels made from coal: $57.2 million (down -18.7%)
- Petroleum oil residues: $30 million (down -41.4%)
- Natural bitumen, asphalt, shale: $21.8 million (down -33.1%)
- Asphalt/petroleum bitumen mixes: $12.9 million (down -56.3%)
- Petroleum jelly, mineral waxes: $10.1 million (down -39.1%)
- Petroleum gases: $9 million (up 19.3%)
- Coal tar oils (high temperature distillation): $361,000 (down -38.1%)
- Crude oil: $45,000 (up 50%)
- Peat: $41,000 (down -85.5%)
Among these import subcategories, Ethiopian purchases of crude oil (up 50%) and petroleum gases (up 19.3%) grew from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of mineral fuels-related imports among Ethiopian businesses and consumers.
In 2020, Ethiopian importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of electrical goods including consumer electronics.
- Phone system devices including smartphones: US$199.6 million (up 97.7% from 2019)
- Electrical converters/power units: $145.7 million (up 17.6%)
- Electric generating sets, converters: $114.4 million (up 24.8%)
- Insulated wire/cable: $96.2 million (up 14.7%)
- TV receivers/monitors/projectors: $86.7 million (up 35.8%)
- Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels: $60.7 million (down -26.8%)
- Electric storage batteries: $42.9 million (down -29.3%)
- Lower-voltage switches, fuses: $36.9 million (down -8.6%)
- Electric motors, generators: $27.8 million (down -17.7%)
- Microphones/headphones/amps: $24.9 million (up 21.5%)
Among these import subcategories, Ethiopian purchases of phone system devices including smartphones (up 97.7%), TV receivers, monitors and projectors (up 35.8%) then electric generating sets or converters (up 24.8%) grew at the fastest pace from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of electronics-related imports among Ethiopian businesses and consumers.
In 2020, Ethiopian importers spent the most on the following subcategories of vehicles.
- Cars: US$417.4 million (down -8.8% from 2019)
- Trucks: $379.7 million (up 5%)
- Automobile parts/accessories: $67.2 million (down -5.4%)
- Public-transport vehicles: $48.3 million (down -68.9%)
- Tractors: $39.8 million (up 54.3%)
- Motorcycles: $32.8 million (down -26.8%)
- Special purpose vehicles: $23.1 million (down -33%)
- Trailers: $12.2 million (up 27.9%)
- Bicycles, other non-motorized cycles: $5 million (down -14.8%)
- Motorcycle parts/accessories: $3.3 million (down -49%)
Among these import subcategories, Ethiopian purchases of tractors (up 54.3%), trailers (up 27.9%) then trucks (up 5%) grew from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of vehicles-related imports among Ethiopian businesses and consumers.
See also Ethiopia’s Top 10 Exports and Top African Export Countries
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles. Accessed on June 23, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Databases (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on June 23, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on June 23, 2021
The World Bank, Official Exchange Rate (LCU per US$, period average) – Ethiopia. Accessed on June 23, 2021