That dollar amount reflects an 37.4% gain since 2017 and a 28% acceleration from 2020 to 2021.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2021, the Malaysian ringgit appreciated by 3.7% against the US dollar since 2017 and rose 1.4% from 2020 to 2021. Malaysia’s stronger local currency made its exports paid for in weaker US dollars relatively more expensive for international buyers.
Malaysia’s biggest export products by value in 2021 were electronic integrated circuits and microassemblies, refined petroleum oils, palm oil, vulcanized rubber clothing or accessories, and petroleum gases. Combined, those major exports accounted for about two-fifths (39.4%) of overall exports sales from Malaysia. That subset of leading exported goods implies a relatively diversified range of exported goods.
Malaysia is a world leader for exporting vulcanized rubber clothing or accessories and ranks among the top countries for global sales of palm oil, solar power diodes or semi-conductors, and electronic integrated circuits.
The latest available country-specific data shows that over three-quarters (77.1%) of products exported from Malaysia were bought by importers in: mainland China (15.5% of the global total), Singapore (14%), United States of America (11.5%), Hong Kong (6.2%), Japan (6.1%), Thailand (4.2%), Vietnam (3.7%), India (3.6%), Taiwan (3.3%), Indonesia (3.2%), South Korea (3%) and Australia (2.8%).
From a continental perspective, 70.3% of Malaysia exports by value were delivered to fellow Asian countries while 12.9% were sold to importers in North America. Malaysia shipped another 9.8% worth of goods to Europe.
Smaller percentages went to Oceania (3.4%) led by Australia and New Zealand, Africa (2.4%) then Latin America (1.1%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean.
Given Malaysia’s population of 33.4 million people, its total $299 billion in 2021 exports translates to roughly $9,000 for every resident in the Southeast Asian country. That per-capita amount compares with an average $7,100 in 2020.
Malaysia’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Malaysian global shipments during 2021. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Malaysia.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$102.8 billion (34.4% of total exports)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $37.2 billion (12.4%)
- Machinery including computers: $25 billion (8.4%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $19.6 billion (6.6%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $16.8 billion (5.6%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $12.6 billion (4.2%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $10.3 billion (3.4%)
- Aluminum: $7.3 billion (2.4%)
- Iron, steel: $6.6 billion (2.2%)
- Other chemical goods: $6 billion (2%)
Malaysia’s top 10 exports accounted for over four-fifths (81.7%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Aluminum was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 92.9% from 2020 to 2021.
In second place for improving export sales was miscellaneous chemical goods via its 52.2% gain.
Malaysia’s shipments of rubber both as a material and for items made from rubber posted the third-fastest gain in value thanks to a 49.8% acceleration.
The most modest advancer among Malaysia’s top 10 export categories was optical, technical and medical apparatus via a 16.6% rise year over year.
Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more granular view of exported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the section Searchable List of Malaysia’s Most Valuable Export Products further down near the bottom of this article.
Products Generating the Highest Trade Surpluses for Malaysia
Malaysia posted an overall $60.9 billion surplus on goods traded during 2021, up 38.4% from $44 billion in black ink one year earlier.
The following types of Malaysian 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.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$31.5 billion (Up by 7.9% since 2020)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $16 billion (Up by 41.2%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $10.9 billion (Up by 44.5%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $7.4 billion (Up by 94.2%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $6.3 billion (Up by 15.3%)
- Machinery including computers: $3.4 billion (Up by 48.8%)
- Aluminum: $3.3 billion (Reversing a -$1.1 billion deficit)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefabricated buildings: $2 billion (Down by -11.2%)
- Wood: $1.5 billion (Down by -3.5%)
- Other chemical goods: $1.4 billion (Up by 148.4%)
Malaysia has highly positive net exports in the international trade of electronics including consumer electronic gadgets.
In turn, these cashflows indicate Malaysia’s strong competitive advantages under the electrical machinery and equipment product category.
Products Causing the Greatest Trade Deficits for Malaysia
Below are exports from Malaysia that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Malaysia’s goods trail Malaysian importer spending on foreign products.
- Gems, precious metals: -US$4.1 billion (Up by 105.4% since 2020)
- Vehicles: -$3.7 billion (Up by 45.1%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$2.3 billion (Up by 64.3%)
- Cereals: -$2.1 billion (Up by 19.9%)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$1.43 billion (Up by 31%)
- Inorganic chemicals: -$1.17 billion (Down by -5.3%)
- Copper: -$1 billion (Up by 327.4%)
- Meat: -$950.3 million (Up by 5.6%)
- Vegetables: -$780.9 million (Up by 8.8%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: -$771.4 million (Up by 23.4%)
Malaysia has highly negative net exports and therefore international trade deficits for gold. There were also growing deficits, albeit to a lesser extent, in the international trade of silver, platinum and diamonds.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Malaysia’s competitive disadvantages in the international vehicles market, but also represent key opportunities for Malaysia to improve its position in the global economy through focused innovations.
Major Malaysian Export Companies
Seventeen Malaysian corporations rank among Forbes Global 2000. Below is a sample of the major Malaysian companies that Forbes included.
- Axiata (communications equipment)
- IOI Group (food processing)
- MISC (shipping company)
- Petronas Chemicals (specialized chemicals)
- Petronas Dagangan (oil, gas)
- Sime Darby (rubber, industrial/energy products)
Wikipedia lists some other large international trade players for Malaysia.
- Hup Chong Furniture SDN BHD (bedroom furniture, beddings, miscellaneous wooden furniture)
- Ly Furniture SDN BHD (furniture, furniture parts)
- POS Malaysia Berhad (paper bags, envelopes)
- R1 International Malaysia SDN BHD (latex, transmission belts, natural rubber in smoked sheets)
Searchable List of Malaysia’s Most Valuable Export Products
At the more granular four-digit HTS code level, Malaysia’s most valuable exported products are electronic integrated circuits plus related parts followed by refined petroleum oil, petroleum gases and palm oil followed by solar power components then computers.
The following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from Malaysia during 2021. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2020.
|Rank||Malaysian Export Product||2021 Value (US$)||Change|
|2||Processed petroleum oils||$20,757,834,000||+62.3%|
|4||Clothing, accessories (vulcanized rubber)||$13,295,488,000||+58.1%|
|6||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$8,234,083,000||+8.2%|
|7||Unrecorded sound media||$6,666,494,000||+14.3%|
|8||Phone devices including smartphones||$6,302,254,000||+18.5%|
|9||Computers, optical readers||$6,284,283,000||+26.3%|
|11||Oscilloscopes, spectrum analyzers||$5,233,336,000||+12.4%|
|14||Industrial fatty acids and alcohols||$3,214,925,000||+77.4%|
|16||Computer parts, accessories||$2,458,425,000||-6.2%|
|17||Animal/vegetable hydrogenated fats, oils||$2,259,321,000||+37.7%|
|18||Machinery for making semi-conductors||$2,108,867,000||+71.1%|
|20||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$1,929,418,000||+7.6%|
|23||Iron or non-alloy steel bars, rods||$1,702,627,000||+65.4%|
|27||Electric water heaters, hair dryers||$1,563,797,000||+2%|
|29||Coiled iron or non-alloy steel bars, rods||$1,462,059,000||+4.1%|
|32||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$1,395,095,000||+14.3%|
|33||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$1,362,159,000||+15.5%|
|35||TV/radio/radar device parts||$1,329,155,000||+30.4%|
|37||Electrical converters/power units||$1,321,310,000||+25.2%|
|38||Iron ores, concentrates||$1,258,793,000||+38.4%|
|39||Saturated acyclic mono acids||$1,252,843,000||+106.1%|
|42||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$1,133,583,000||+27.3%|
|43||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$1,122,809,000||+17.3%|
|49||Iron or non-alloy steel products (semi-finished)||$1,013,478,000||+60.7%|
|50||Other measuring/testing machines||$977,078,000||+46.6%|
|54||Chemical industry products/residuals||$959,022,000||+41.2%|
|55||Electric storage batteries||$936,883,000||-6.1%|
|58||Copper powder, flakes||$848,789,000||+8.6%|
|59||Other food preparations||$818,553,000||+19.7%|
|60||Hydrogen, rare gases||$803,303,000||+177.8%|
|61||Laminated wood (including plywood, veneer panels)||$790,346,000||+16.9%|
|64||Miscellaneous plastic items||$777,467,000||+20.3%|
|65||Animal/vegetable boiled or oxidized fats, oils||$739,405,000||+105.9%|
|66||Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries||$738,240,000||+38.5%|
|67||Concrete/artificial stone items||$728,200,000||+48.9%|
|70||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$646,056,000||+31.6%|
|72||Flour/meal/starch/malt extract food preparations||$610,067,000||+6.3%|
|74||Cocoa butter, fat, oil||$604,620,000||+0.9%|
|75||Miscellaneous aluminum items||$591,784,000||+16.9%|
|76||Coal tar oils (high temperature distillation)||$576,911,000||-7.8%|
|78||Organic surface-active products, soaps||$558,911,000||-0.9%|
|80||Miscellaneous iron and steel structures||$548,966,000||+11.2%|
|83||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$532,552,000||+13.4%|
|86||Coffee/tea extracts, concentrates||$518,073,000||+8%|
|87||Air or vacuum pumps||$514,176,000||-2.8%|
|89||Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)||$497,231,000||-11%|
|90||Miscellaneous iron or steel items||$463,406,000||+15.9%|
|91||Float/ground/polished glass in sheets||$445,812,000||+60.8%|
|92||Unsaturated acyclic mono acids||$442,978,000||+113.8%|
|93||Electric circuit parts, fuses, switches||$441,741,000||+56.5%|
|94||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$424,678,000||+14.2%|
|97||Rubber tires (new)||$412,689,000||+33.5%|
|99||Other organic cleaning preparations||$411,526,000||+35.5%|
|100||Copper bars, rods||$394,128,000||+50.7%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$251.3 billion or 84% by value for all products exported from Malaysia during 2021.
In macroeconomic terms, Malaysia’s total exported goods represent 30.9% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2021 ($969 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 30.9% for exports to overall GDP per PPP in 2021 compares to 26% one year earlier. Those percentages suggest a relatively increasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Malaysia’s total economic performance, albeit based on a short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Malaysia’s average unemployment rate was 4.7% at October 2021, up from an average 4.525% one year earlier according to the International Monetary Fund.
See also Malaysia’s Top 10 Imports, Malaysia’s Top Trading Partners and Malaysia’s Top 10 Major Export Companies
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, Country Profiles. Accessed on March 27, 2022
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on March 27, 2022
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (Domestic Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on March 27, 2022
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Databases (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on March 27, 2022
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on March 27, 2022
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 27, 2022
Richest Country Reports, Key Statistics Powering Global Wealth. Accessed on December 17, 2021
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on March 27, 2022
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Malaysia. Accessed on March 27, 2022
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on March 27, 2022