Iran’s most valuable export products are ethylene polymers, crude oil, acyclic alcohols, miscellaneous nuts and semi-finished iron or non-alloy steel products. Collectively, those 5 major products represent over half (52%) of all Iranian exports measured by dollar value.
The latest available country-specific data from 2018 shows that 60.5% of products exported from Iran were bought by importers in: China (14.7% of the global total), Iraq (14.3%), United Arab Emirates (9.5%), Afghanistan (4.7%), South Korea (4.1%), Turkey (3.8%), India (3.3%), Pakistan (2%), Indonesia (1.3%), Oman (1.2%), Thailand (1.1%) and Azerbaijan (0.7%).
Given Iran’s population of 84.1 million people, its total $11.8 billion in 2020 exports translates to roughly $140 for every resident in the Middle Eastern country.
Iran’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Iranian global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Iran.
- Plastics, plastic articles: US$2.6 billion (22.4% of total exports)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $1.9 billion (16.3%)
- Organic chemicals: $1.3 billion (11%)
- Fruits, nuts: $1.3 billion (10.6%)
- Iron, steel: $906.9 million (7.7%)
- Copper: $332.6 million (2.8%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $312.9 million (2.7%)
- Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $258.7 million (2.2%)
- Fertilizers: $247.1 million (2.1%)
- Zinc: $142 million (1.2%)
Iran’s top 10 exports accounted for 79% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Fruits and nuts was the lone grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 11.7% from 2019 to 2020.
The leading decliner among Iran’s top 10 export categories was mineral fuels including oil, thanks to its -89% drop year over year.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, ethylene polymers represent Iran’s most valuable exported product at 19.7% of the country’s total. In second place was crude oil (11.3%), acyclic alcohols (7.8%), miscellaneous nuts (7.5%), semi-finished iron or non-alloy steel products (5.6%), iron ores and concentrates (2.3%), refined copper and unwrought alloys (2.2%), petroleum gases (also 2.2%) and nitrogenous fertilizers (2.1%.
The following types of Iranian 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.
1. Plastics, plastic articles: US$2 billion (19% of total exports)
2. Mineral fuels including oil: $1.8 billion (17%)
3. Fruits, nuts: $979.3 million (9.4%)
4. Iron, steel: $551.6 million (5.3%)
5. Organic chemicals: $467.1 million (4.5%)
6. Copper: $319.1 million (3.1%)
7. Ores, slag, ash: $264.7 million (2.5%)
8. Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $212.5 million (2%)
9. Fertilizers: $161.4 million (1.5%)
10. Zinc: $141.6 million (1.4%)
Iran has highly positive net exports in the international trade of plastics as a material and articles made from plastic. In turn, these cashflows indicate Iran’s strong competitive advantages under the plastics-related category.
Iran incurred an estimated -$10.4 billion deficit for 2020, up 135.3% from -$4.4 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Iran that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Iran’s goods trail Iranian importer spending on foreign products.
- Machinery including computers: -US$3.3 billion (Down by -30.1% since 2019)
- Cereals: -$2.4 billion (Down by -34.1%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$1.8 billion (Down by -51.3%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: -$1 billion (Down by -21.1%)
- Vehicles: -$976.2 million (Down by -9.5%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$749.9 million (Down by -27.9%)
- Oil seeds: -$740.2 million (Down by -34.1%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: -$407.9 million (Down by -16.6%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: -$399.2 million (Down by -51.5%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$397.7 million (Up by 3.1%)
Iran has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the machinery including computers category.
Iranian Export Companies
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following companies are examples of diverse exporters from Iran.
- Pars Pak (carpets, other textile floor coverings)
- Sana T Tejarat Anahita (grapes, raisins)
- Khadem Trading (cereals, aerated/mineral water)
- Dezdasht Agro Industry (juice, jams)
- Omid Nikan (acyclic polyhydric alcohols)
- Kayson (grinding machines, tubes/pipes/hoses, doors)
- Dashte Morghab (flour, meal)
- Celulose Irani (wooden furniture)
- Bushehr Marine Products (citrus fruit, melons)
- Axis Global Trading (pistachios)
In macroeconomic terms, Iran’s total exported goods represent 1% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($1.149 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 1% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2020 compares to 1.8% for 2019. Those percentages suggest a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Iran’s total economic performance, albeit based on a short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Iran’s average unemployment rate was 10.823% for 2020. up from an average 10.65% one year earlier according to the International Monetary Fund.
Iran’s capital city is Tehran.
See also Top Middle Eastern Export Countries, Iraq’s Top 10 Exports and Grapes Exports by Country
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on July 25, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map: Iran export data. Accessed on July 25, 2021
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Middle East: Iran. Accessed on July 25, 2021
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on July 25, 2021
Wikipedia, Iran. Accessed on July 25, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on July 25, 2021
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on July 25, 2021