Based on the average exchange rate for 2020, the Malaysian ringgit depreciated by -1.3% against the US dollar since 2016 and declined by -1.5% from 2019 to 2020. Malaysia’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 78.4% of products exported from Malaysia were bought by importers in: China (16.1% of the global total), Singapore (14.5%), United States (11.1%), Hong Kong (6.9%), Japan (6.3%), Thailand (4.6%), South Korea (3.5%), Taiwan (3.4%), Vietnam (3.1%), India (3.1%), Indonesia (3%) and Germany (2.5%).
From a continental perspective, 71.5% of Malaysia exports by value were delivered to Asian countries while 12.4% were sold to North American importers. Malaysia shipped another 10.3% worth of goods to Europe. Smaller percentages went to Oceania led by Australia and New Zealand (3%), Africa (2%) then Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.8%).
Given Malaysia’s population of 33 million people, its total $234 billion in 2020 exports translates to roughly $7,100 for every resident in the Southeast Asian country.
Malaysia’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Malaysian global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Malaysia.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$86.6 billion (37% of total exports)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $26.5 billion (11.3%)
- Machinery including computers: $20.2 billion (8.6%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $13.5 billion (5.8%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $11.2 billion (4.8%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $10.9 billion (4.6%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $8.2 billion (3.5%)
- Iron, steel: $5.2 billion (2.2%)
- Other chemical goods: $4 billion (1.7%)
- Aluminum: $3.8 billion (1.6%)
Malaysia’s top 10 exports accounted for over four-fifths (81.2%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Rubber including items made from rubber was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 58% from 2019 to 2020. In second place for improving export sales was animal or vegetable fats, oils and waxes via a 17.9% gain. Malaysia’s shipments of iron and steel as materials posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 17.8%.
The leading decliner among Malaysia’s top 10 export categories was mineral fuels including oil, thanks to a -23.2% drop year over year weighed down by lower revenues for petroleum gases and oils.
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.
Overall Malaysia posted a $44.2 billion surplus on goods traded during 2020, up 33.3% from $33.2 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$29.3 billion (Up by 12.1% since 2019)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $11.3 billion (Up by 15.3%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $7.6 billion (Up by 116.9%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $5.5 billion (Up by 23.9%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $3.8 billion (Down by -18.3%)
- Machinery including computers: $2.3 billion (Up by 131%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefabricated buildings: $2.2 billion (Up by 9.8%)
- Wood: $1.5 billion (Down by -32%)
- Glass: $560.2 million (Up by 53.3%)
- Other chemical goods: $549.6 million (Up by 26%)
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.
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.
- Vehicles: -US$2.6 billion (Down by -40.3% since 2019)
- Ships, boats: -$2.2 billion (Reversing a $74.5 million surplus)
- Gems, precious metals: -$2 billion (Up by 59.2%)
- Cereals: -$1.7 billion (Up by 7.4%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$1.41 billion (Up by 5%)
- Inorganic chemicals: -$1.24 billion (Down by -8.8%)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$1.1 billion (Up by 2%)
- Aluminum: -$1.06 billion (Reversing a $122.7 million surplus)
- Meat: -$900.3 million (Up by 7.5%)
- Paper, paper items: -$758.5 million (Down by -12.9%)
Malaysia has highly negative net exports and therefore international trade deficits for automobile parts or accessories, cars, trucks, tractors and motorcycles.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Malaysia’s competitive disadvantages in the international vehicles market, but also represent key opportunities for Malaysia to improve its position in the global economy through focused innovations.
Malaysian Export Companies
Seventeen Malaysian corporations rank among Forbes Global 2000. Below is a sample of the major Malaysian companies that Forbes included.
- Axiata (communications equipment)
- IOI Group (food processing)
- MISC (shipping company)
- Petronas Chemicals (specialized chemicals)
- Petronas Dagangan (oil, gas)
- Sime Darby (rubber, industrial/energy products)
Wikipedia lists some other large international trade players for Malaysia.
- Hup Chong Furniture SDN BHD (bedroom furniture, beddings, miscellaneous wooden furniture)
- Ly Furniture SDN BHD (furniture, furniture parts)
- POS Malaysia Berhad (paper bags, envelopes)
- R1 International Malaysia SDN BHD (latex, transmission belts, natural rubber in smoked sheets)
Searchable List of Malaysia’s Most Valuable Export Products
At the more granular four-digit HTS code level, Malaysia’s most valuable exported products are electronic integrated circuits plus related parts followed by refined petroleum oil, petroleum gases and palm oil followed by solar power components then computers.
The following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from Malaysia during 2020. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2019.
|Rank||Malaysian Export Product||2020 Value (US$)||Change|
|2||Processed petroleum oils||$12,784,896,000||-14.3%|
|4||Clothing, accessories (vulcanized rubber)||$8,447,129,000||+101.2%|
|5||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$7,617,540,000||-12.7%|
|7||Unrecorded sound media||$5,832,204,000||+37.2%|
|8||Phone system devices||$5,326,714,000||+31.3%|
|9||Computers, optical readers||$4,981,705,000||-24.7%|
|11||Oscilloscopes, spectrum analyzers||$4,660,851,000||+22.7%|
|13||Computer parts, accessories||$2,624,499,000||+26.1%|
|16||Industrial fatty acids and alcohols||$1,815,115,000||-0.7%|
|17||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$1,796,115,000||-4.2%|
|19||Animal/vegetable hydrogenated fats, oils||$1,642,524,000||+9.6%|
|21||Electric water heaters, hair dryers||$1,537,823,000||+9.3%|
|24||Coiled iron or non-alloy steel bars, rods||$1,401,180,000||+144.8%|
|26||Machinery for making semi-conductors||$1,234,935,000||+31%|
|27||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$1,223,520,000||-7.7%|
|29||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$1,181,000,000||-12.6%|
|33||Electrical converters/power units||$1,058,300,000||+21.4%|
|35||Iron or non-alloy steel bars, rods||$1,026,062,000||+511.8%|
|36||TV/radio/radar device parts||$1,023,190,000||+18.7%|
|37||Electric storage batteries||$997,496,000||-12.5%|
|39||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$957,787,000||-8.6%|
|44||Iron ores, concentrates||$910,616,000||-6.9%|
|45||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$891,370,000||-15.7%|
|49||Copper powders, flakes||$781,613,000||-25.4%|
|52||Other food preparations||$684,956,000||+0.6%|
|53||Chemical industry products/residuals||$679,461,000||+0.7%|
|54||Laminated wood (including plywood, veneer panels)||$677,242,000||-17.6%|
|56||Other measuring/testing machines||$667,192,000||-5.1%|
|59||Miscellaneous plastic items||$648,154,000||-15.5%|
|61||Iron or non-alloy steel products (semi-finished)||$630,254,000||-28.4%|
|62||Coal tar oils (high temperature distillation)||$623,264,000||+31.6%|
|63||Saturated acyclic mono acids||$608,562,000||-19.3%|
|65||Cocoa butter, fat, oil||$599,465,000||-2.3%|
|66||Flour/meal/starch/malt extract food preparations||$574,545,000||-6.7%|
|68||Organic surface-active products, soap||$563,136,000||-0.2%|
|69||Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)||$561,331,000||+1.3%|
|71||Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries||$533,680,000||-23.5%|
|72||Air or vacuum pumps||$530,139,000||-8.9%|
|74||Miscellaneous aluminum items||$506,969,000||-35.6%|
|75||Miscellaneous iron and steel structures||$496,014,000||+9.5%|
|76||Concrete/artificial stone items||$493,104,000||-2.4%|
|77||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$492,638,000||-5.5%|
|78||Coffee/tea extracts, concentrates||$480,205,000||-8.2%|
|79||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$470,531,000||+10.3%|
|83||Petroleum oil residues||$421,490,000||-34%|
|84||Precious metal waste, scrap||$419,727,000||+14.9%|
|85||Miscellaneous iron or steel items||$401,568,000||-1.5%|
|87||Liquid/gas checking instruments||$382,567,000||+4%|
|89||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$371,861,000||+33.1%|
|91||Animal/vegetable hydrogenated fats, oils||$356,814,000||+76.3%|
|95||Chemicals used in electronics||$334,919,000||-17.3%|
|97||Pneumatic hand tool||$314,088,000||+10.7%|
|98||Miscellaneous oil cakes||$312,763,000||+27.9%|
|100||Rubber tires (new)||$310,213,000||-7.6%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$195.5 billion or 83.5% by value for all products exported from Malaysia during 2020.
In macroeconomic terms, Malaysia’s total exported goods represent 26% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($900.4 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 26% for exports to overall GDP per PPP in 2020 compares to 22.1% one year earlier. This seems to indicate a relatively increasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Malaysia’s total economic performance, albeit based on a very short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Malaysia’s average unemployment rate was 4.8% at November 2020, up from an average 3.325% 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 February 24, 2021
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on February 24, 2021
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on February 24, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Databases (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on February 24, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on February 24, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on February 24, 2021
Richest Country Reports, Key Statistics Powering Global Wealth. Accessed on December 17, 2020
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on February 24, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Malaysia. Accessed on February 24, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on February 24, 2021