Based on the average exchange rate for 2020, the Icelandic króna depreciated by -12.1% against the US dollar since 2016 and declined by -10.5% from 2019 to 2020. Iceland’s weaker local currency makes its exports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively less expensive for international buyers.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 85.2% of products exported from Iceland were bought by importers in: Netherlands (20.2% of the global total), Spain (17.3%), United Kingdom (11.1%), France (8.1%), United States (7.6%), Germany (5.5%), Norway (4.2%), Denmark (2.8%), Poland (2.5%), Portugal (2.2%), China (2%) and Belgium (1.7%).
From a continental perspective, 83.8% of Iceland exports by value were delivered to fellow European countries while 9.1% were sold to North American importers. Iceland shipped another 4.4% worth of goods to Asia. Smaller percentages went to Africa (1.7%), Oceania led by Australia and New Zealand (0.4%) then Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.3%).
Given Iceland’s population of 364,000 people, its total $4.6 billion in 2020 exports translates to roughly $12,600 for every resident in the Nordic island country.
Iceland’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Icelandic global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Iceland.
- Fish: US$1.9 billion (42% of total exports)
- Aluminum: $1.6 billion (35.1%)
- Iron, steel: $143.7 million (3.1%)
- Food industry waste, animal fodder: $118 million (2.6%)
- Meat/seafood preparations: $109.2 million (2.4%)
- Machinery including computers: $107.1 million (2.3%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $105.3 million (2.3%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $104.9 million (2.3%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $35.4 million (0.8%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $33.3 million (0.7%)
Iceland’s top 10 exports are concentrated, accounting for 93.5% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Animal or vegetable fats, oils and waxes (up 16.6%) and iron or steel as materials were the only product categories to increase from 2019 to 2020.
The leading decliner among Iceland’s top 10 export categories was mineral fuels including oil which shrank -60.1% year over year.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level, Iceland’s most valuable exported products in 2020 was unwrought aluminum (29.4%), fish fillets and other pieces (21.5%), whole frozen fish (7.2%), miscellaneous dried, salted or smoked fish (6.8%), whole fresh fish (5.8%), aluminum wire (2.8%), iron ferroalloys (2.7%), inedible meat flour (2.4%), fish or marine mammal fats and oils (2.1%) and thin aluminum foil (1.5%).
The following types of Icelandic 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.
- Fish: US$1.9 billion (Down by -4% since 2019)
- Aluminum: $1.5 billion (Down by -9.6%)
- Iron, steel: $101.1 million (Up by 11.5%)
- Meat/seafood preparations: $98.7 million (Down by -8.4%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $59.2 million (Up by 32.4%)
- Live animals: $10.7 million (Up by 39.3%)
- Miscellaneous animal-origin products: $5.4 million (Up by 509.7%)
- Raw hides, skins not furskins, leather: $4.4 million (Down by -4.7%)
- Collector items, art, antiques: $1.2 million (Up by 11.1%)
- Furskins, artificial fur: $1 million (Down by -26.6%)
Iceland has highly positive net exports in the international trade of fish. In turn, these cashflows indicate Iceland’s strong competitive advantages under the fish product category.
Overall, Iceland incurred a -$1.1 billion trade deficit for 2020 down -16.3% from -$1.3 billion one year earlier.
Below are exports from Iceland that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Iceland’s goods trail Icelandic importer spending on foreign products.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -US$630 million (Down by -7.5% since 2019)
- Vehicles: -$526.8 million (Up by 0.9%)
- Machinery including computers: -$491.4 million (Down by -15.2%)
- Inorganic chemicals: -$480.4 million (Down by -24%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: -$350.7 million (Down by -50.7%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefabricated buildings: -$201.8 million (Up by 4.2%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$173.9 million (Up by 9.9%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$149.1 million (Down by -6.2%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$135.8 million (Down by -12.4%)
- Other chemical goods: -$121.6 million (Up by 23.2%)
Iceland has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the electrical machinery and equipment category.
Icelandic Export Companies
Not one Icelandic corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000.
Wikipedia lists export-related companies from Iceland. Selected examples are shown below.
- Arctic Trucks (commercial vehicles)
- Carbon Recycling International (methanol)
- Egill Skallagrímsson Brewery (alcoholic beverages)
- HB Grandi (fishery)
- Nói Síríus (chocolates)
- Promens (packaging, plastics)
- Sláturfélag Suðurlands (food producer co-op)
In macroeconomic terms, Iceland’s total exported goods represent 23.2% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 (an estimated $19.8 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 23.2% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2020 compares to 26.2% one year earlier. That metric seems to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Iceland’s total economic performance.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Iceland’s unemployment rate was 8.2% at January 2020, up from 2.742% two years earlier according to Trading Economics.
Iceland’s capital city is Reykjavik.
See also Denmark’s Top Trading Partners, Frozen Fish Exports by Country and Capital Facts for Reykjavik, Iceland
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook: Country Profiles. Accessed on March 7, 2021
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on March 7, 2021
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on March 7, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on March 7, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on March 7, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 7, 2021
Richest Country Reports, Key Statistics Powering Global Wealth. Accessed on March 7, 2021
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on July 3, 2020
Wikipedia, Iceland. Accessed on March 7, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Iceland. Accessed on March 7, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on July 3, 2020