That dollar amount reflects a 10.8% increase since 2016 but a -3.5% drop from 2019 to 2020.
The 5 biggest exports from Nicaragua are gold, knitted or crocheted t-shirts, coffee, insulated wire or cable, and frozen beef. Combined, that quintet of leading exports represent 45.3% of the overall value of Nicaraguan exported goods.
Nicaragua’s Major Trading Partners
The latest available country-specific data shows that 91.3% of products exported from Nicaragua were bought by importers in: the United States of America (59.4% of the global total), Mexico (7.8%), El Salvador (6.5%), Honduras (3.7%), Costa Rica (3%), Guatemala (2.5%), Taiwan (also 2.5%), Belgium (1.3%), United Kingdom (1.2%), South Korea (also 1.2%), Germany (1.1%) and Spain (1%).
From a continental perspective, 68.1% of Nicaragua’s exports by value were delivered to North American countries while 18.5% were sold to importers in Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean. Nicaragua shipped another 7.6% worth of goods to Europe, with 5.3% going to Asia.
Tinier percentages went to Africa (0.4%) then Oceania led by Australia (0.1%).
Given Nicaragua’s population of 6.5 million people, its total $5.1 billion in 2020 exports translates to approximately $800 for every resident in the Central American nation.
Nicaragua’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Nicaraguan global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Nicaragua.
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: US$907.2 million (17.8% of total exports)
- Gems, precious metals: $724.9 million (14.2%)
- Meat: $565 million (11.1%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $441.1 million (8.7%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $395.5 million (7.8%)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $289.4 million (5.7%)
- Fish: $284.8 million (5.6%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $262.7 million (5.2%)
- Dairy, eggs, honey: $191 million (3.8%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $176.4 million (3.5%)
Nicaragua’s top 10 export categories accounted for 83.3% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Gems and precious metals was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 32.6% from 2019 to 2020. That growth was propelled by higher international sales of Nicaraguan gold and to a lesser extent, silver and jewelry.
In second place for improving export sales was tobacco including manufactured substitutes via a 16% gain.
Nicaragua’s shipments of dairy, eggs and honey posted the third-fastest gain in value, up by 13.6%.
The leading decliner among Nicaragua’s top 10 export categories was unknitted and non-crocheted clothing and accessories, thanks to a -30.1% drop year over year.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, gold represents Nicaragua’s most valuable exported product at 13.1% of the country’s total. In second place were knitted or crocheted t-shirts and vests (10.2%) trailed by coffee (8.7%), insulated wire or cable (7.7%), frozen beef (5.7%), cigars, cigarillos and cigarettes (5.2%), fresh or chilled beef (5%), crustaceans including lobsters (4.1%), knitted or crocheted women’s blouses and shirts excluding t-shirts (3%) then cheese (2.9%).
The following types of Nicaraguan 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.
- Gems, precious metals: US$723.3 million (Up by 32.6% since 2019)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $619.1 million (Down by -9.9%)
- Meat: $530.2 million (Up by 2.8%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $435.8 million (Down by -4.6%)
- Fish: $279.1 million (Down by -6.7%)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $185.7 million (Up by 33%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $182.8 million (Down by -41.5%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $152.2 million (Down by -12.6%)
- Dairy, eggs, honey: $152.1 million (Up by 24%)
- Vegetables: $116.2 million (Up by 43.8%)
Nicaragua has highly positive net exports in the international trade of apparel and gold. In turn, these cashflows indicate Nicaragua’s strong competitive advantages under both the knit or unknit and crochet or non-crochet clothing and accessories categories, as well as the leading gems and precious metals product category.
Overall Nicaragua garnered an estimated -$1.5 billion trade deficit for 2020, down by -14.9% from the -$1.7 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Nicaragua that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Nicaragua’s goods trail Nicaraguan importer spending on foreign products.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$610.5 million (Down by -34.4% since 2019)
- Knit or crochet fabric: -$420.7 million (Down by -9.8%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$374.8 million (Up by 12.7%)
- Machinery including computers: -$359.8 million (Up by 6.4%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$290.3 million (Down by -4.5%)
- Vehicles: -$216.1 million (Up by 35.7%)
- Cereals: -$175 million (Up by 24.6%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$164.8 million (Up by 517.6%)
- Paper, paper items: -$163.3 million (Down by -31.9%)
- Other chemical goods: -$157.6 million (Up by 32.4%)
Nicaragua has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the mineral fuels including oil category, notably due to red ink recorded for both crude and refined petroleum oils as well as petroleum gases.
Nicaraguan Export Companies
Not one Nicaraguan corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000.
Wikipedia lists exports-related companies from Nicaragua. Selected examples are shown below.
- Compañía Cervecera de Nicaragua (brewery)
- ECAMI (alternative energy)
- El Castillo del Cacao (chocolate)
- Flor de Caña (rum)
- Gelateria Italiana (ice cream)
- Joya de Nicaragua (cigars)
- Kola Shaler Industrial (soft drinks)
In macroeconomic terms, Nicaragua’s total exported goods represent 14% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($36.2 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 14% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2020 compares to 17.3% for 2019. Those percentages suggest a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Nicaragua’s total economic performance, albeit based on a relatively short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Nicaragua’s average unemployment rate was 8.061% for 2020, up from an average 6.127% one year earlier according to the International Monetary Fund.
Nicaragua’s capital city is Managua, a word that can mean either “adjacent to the water” or “place of the chief”.
See also Sugar Exports by Country, Natural Honey Exports by Country and Top Milk Exporting Countries
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles. Accessed on September 8, 2021
Forbes 2016 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on September 8, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on September 8, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on September 8, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on September 8, 2021
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on September 8, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Nicaragua. Accessed on September 8, 2021
Wikipedia, Managua. Accessed on September 8, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on September 8, 2021
WorldOMeter, Nicaragua Population. Accessed on September 8, 2021