The latest available country-specific data from 2018 shows that 65.4% of products exported from Kenya were bought by importers in: Uganda (10.1% of the global total), Pakistan (9.7%), United States (7.7%), Netherlands (7.6%), United Kingdom (6.6%), United Arab Emirates (5.7%), Tanzania (4.9%), Egypt (3.3%), Rwanda (2.9%), Democratic Republic of Congo (2.5%), Somalia (also 2.5%) and South Sudan (2.1%).
From a continental perspective, 35.2% of Kenya’s exports by value were delivered to African countries while 30.5% were sold to importers in Asia. Kenya shipped another 24% worth of goods to Europe. Smaller percentages went to North America (8.4%), Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.9%) then Oceania led by Australia (0.5%).
Given Kenya’s population of 49.4 million people, its total $3.44 billion in 2019 exported goods translates to roughly $70 for every resident in the East African country.
Kenya’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Kenyan global shipments during 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Kenya.
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: US$779.4 million (22.6% of total exports)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $612 million (17.8%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $303.7 million (8.8%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $272.6 million (7.9%)
- Fruits, nuts: $241.3 million (7%)
- Vegetables: $225 million (6.5%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $191.4 million (5.6%)
- Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $116.4 million (3.4%)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $70.6 million (2%)
- Oil seeds: $65.2 million (1.9%)
Kenya’s top 10 exports accounted for 83.6% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Oil seeds represent the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 240% from 2018 to 2019. In second place for improving export sales was knitted or crocheted clothing and accessories via a 58.3% gain. Kenya’s shipments of unknitted and non-crocheted clothing or accessories posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 39.1%.
The leading decliner among Kenya’s top 10 export categories was coffee, tea and spices thanks to a -62.2% drop year over year, weighed down by plummeting international sales of tea.
From the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, fresh or dried flowers for bouquets or general ornamental represent Kenya ’s most valuable exported product at 20.6% of the country’s total. In second place was tea including flavored varieties (10.5%) trailed by coffee (7.2%), unknit and non-crocheted men’s suits or trousers (4.6%), titanium ores and concentrates (also 4.6%), fresh or chilled leguminous vegetables (4.3%), dates, figs, pineapples, mangoes, avocadoes and guavas (4.2%) then miscellaneous nuts (2.7%).
The following types of Kenyan 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.
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: US$772.5 million (Up by 24.7% since 2018)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $606.2 million (Down by -61.9%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $267.3 million (Up by 33.5%)
- Fruits, nuts: $215 million (Up by 7.7%)
- Vegetables: $205.6 million (Up by 53.1%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $188.2 million (Up by 51.5%)
- Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $94.6 million (Up by 14.2%)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $66 million (Down by -24.7%)
- Oil seeds: $41.5 million (Reversing a -$11.5 million deficit)
- Raw hides, skins not furskins, leather: $40.7 million (Up by 3.1%)
Kenya has highly positive net exports in the international trade under the live trees, plans and cut flowers product category.
Kenya incurred an overall -$10.6 billion trade deficit for 2019, down by -6.8% from -$11.3 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Kenya that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Kenya’s goods trail Kenyan importer spending on foreign products.
- Machinery including computers: US-$1.35 billion (Down by -14.1% since 2018)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$1.26 billion (Up by 9.3%)
- Vehicles: -$1.2 billion (Up by 7%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: -$1.1 billion (Down by -63.5%)
- Iron, steel: -$876.1 million (Up by 17.2%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$814.7 million (Up by 25%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$514.8 million (Up by 20.2%)
- Cereals: -$487.7 million (Down by -39.8%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$333.1 million (Down by -5.7%)
- Paper, paper items: -$291.8 million (Down by -18.5%)
Kenya has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for machinery particularly turbo-jets and computers.
Kenyan Export Companies
According to MarcoPolis.net rankings, the following are the top 10 Kenyan companies. Six of these companies are banks, which can support Kenya’s international trade projects.
- Safaricom (telecommunications)
- East African Breweries (beverages)
- Equity Banking (banking)
- Kenya Commercial Bank (banking)
- British American Tobacco (tobacco)
- Standard Chartered Bank (banking)
- Co-operative Bank of Kenya (banking)
- Lafarge-Bamburi Cement (cement)
- Barclays Bank (banking)
- Diamond Trust Bank (banking)
Wikipedia also lists exporters from Kenya. Selected examples are shown below:
- Cooper Motor Corporation (automobiles)
- Kakuzi Limited (coffee, tea, fruits)
- KenolKobil (petroleum)
- Sasini (tea, coffee)
- Total Kenya (petroleum)
In macroeconomic terms, Kenya’s total exported goods represent 1.8% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($191.3 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 1.8% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2019 compares to 2.9% for 2018. Those metrics suggest a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Kenya’s total economic performance albeit based on a short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Kenya’s average unemployment rate was 4.9% at December 2019 compared to 11% in January 2018, as calculated by Trading Economics.
Kenya’s capital city is Nairobi, nicknamed the “Safari Capital of the World” and the “Green City in the Sun”.
See also Top African Export Countries, Coffee Exports by Country and Tea Imports by Country
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Africa: Kenya. Accessed on June 13, 2020
Forbes 2019 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on June 13, 2020
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on June 13, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on June 13, 2020
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on June 13, 2020
MarcoPolis.net, Top 10 Companies in Kenya, Kenya Report. Accessed on June 13, 2020
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on June 13, 2020
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Kenya. Accessed on June 13, 2020
Wikipedia, Kenya. Accessed on June 13, 2020
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on June 13, 2020