That dollar amount reflects a -39.5% decline since 2016 and a -71.1% drop from 2019 to 2020.
The 5 biggest products exported from Rwanda by value are coffee, live bovine cattle, gold, niobium or zirconium ores and concentrates, and tin ores and concentrates. Collectively, Rwanda’s 5 major export goods represent almost three-quarters (73.3%) of Rwanda’s shipments in 2020.
Rwanda’s Most Valuable Trading Partners
The latest available country-specific data from 2019 shows that 89.4% of products exported from Rwanda were bought by importers in: the Democratic Republic of Congo (32.1% of the global total), United Arab Emirates (29.6%), Uganda (5.3%), Switzerland (4.6%), Pakistan (3.4%), United Kingdom (3.3%), Burundi (also 3.3%), Singapore (2.6%), South Sudan (1.7%), Belgium (1.4%), United States (1.1%) and Kenya (1%).
From a continental perspective, 46.5% of Rwanda’s exports by value were delivered to fellow African countries while 40.2% were sold to importers in Asia. Rwanda shipped another 12% worth of goods to Europe.
Smaller percentages went to North America (1.2%), Oceania’s New Zealand and Australia (0.1%), and Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.02%).
Given Rwanda’s population of 12.7 million people, its total $335.7 million in 2020 exports translates to roughly $30 for every resident in the Central African nation.
Rwanda’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Rwandan global shipments during 2020, at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Rwanda.
- Coffee, tea, spices: US$126.1 million (37.6% of total exports)
- Ores, slag, ash: $81 million (24.1%)
- Gems, precious metals: $54.7 million (16.3%)
- Cereal/milk preparations: $7.1 million (2.1%)
- Vegetables: $6.3 million (1.9%)
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $5.8 million (1.7%)
- Lead: $4.5 million (1.3%)
- Gums, resins, other vegetable saps: $4.4 million (1.3%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $3.1 million (0.9%)
- Milling products, malt, starches: $2.8 million (0.8%)
Rwanda’s top 10 exports accounted for 88.1% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Live trees, plants and cut flowers was one of 2 gainers among the top 10 export categories, up by 52.9% from 2019 to 2020.
The other increasing category was unknitted and non-crocheted clothing or accessories via a 6.7% gain.
The leading decliner among Rwanda’s top 10 export categories was milling products, malt and starches, thanks to its -92.9% drop year over year.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, coffee represents Rwanda’s most valuable exported product at 20.7% of the country’s total. In second place was live bovine cattle (16.8%) trailed by gold (16.1%), niobium and zirconium ores or concentrates (13.5%), tin ores or concentrates (6.2%), flour, meal, starch or malt extract food preparations (2.1%), fresh or dried flowers for bouquets or ornamental purposes (1.7%), tungsten ores and concentrates (1.4%), unwrought lead (1.3%) then vegetable saps and extracts (also 1.3%).
The following types of Rwandan 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.
- Coffee, tea, spices: US$125.5 million (Down by -21.3% since 2019)
- Ores, slag, ash: $81 million (Down by -20.1%)
- Gems, precious metals: $54.4 million (Down by -24.7%)
- Vegetables: $5.9 million (Reversing a -$2.9 million deficit)
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $5.7 million (Up by 60.2%)
- Gums, resins, other vegetable saps: $3.5 million (Down by -34.3%)
- Lead: $3.2 million (Up by 14.6%)
- Raw hides, skins not furskins, leather: $2.3 million (Up by 35.4%)
- Tin: $1.3 million (Up by 94.6%)
- Plaiting products, basketware.wickerwork: $987,000 (Up by 344.6%)
Rwanda has highly positive net exports in the international trade of coffee and tea. In turn, these cashflows indicate Rwanda’s strong competitive advantages under the coffee, tea and spices product category.
Rwanda incurred an estimated -$934.3 million trade deficit for 2020, down by -54.1% from -$2.03 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Rwanda that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Rwanda’s goods trail Rwandan importer spending on foreign products.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US-$201.9 million (Down by -22.2% since 2019)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$99.3 million (Down by -3.4%)
- Machinery including computers: -$98.4 million (Down by -65.9%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$89.1 million (Down by -19%)
- Vehicles: -$71.9 million (Up by 7.9%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: -$54.3 million (Up by 7.2%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$45.7 million (Down by -44.4%)
- Other chemical goods: -$40.3 million (Down by -17%)
- Fish: -$36.7 million (Up by 90%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: -$32.7 million (Down by -49.3%)
Rwanda has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the electrical machinery and equipment product category.
Rwandan Export Companies
Not one Rwandan corporation ranks on the Forbes Global 2000 list.
Wikipedia lists companies from Rwanda that are involved in export-related activities. Selected examples are shown below.
- Access Bank Rwanda (commercial bank)
- Bralirwa Brewery (beer, soft drinks)
- Great Lakes Energy (electricity)
- Rwanda Development Bank (financing institution)
- Terracom (mobile telecommunications)
In macroeconomic terms, Rwanda’s total exported goods represent an estimated .01% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($29.6 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 0.01% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2020 compares to roughly 1% for 2019. Those percentages suggest a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Rwanda’s total economic performance, albeit based on very short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Rwanda’s unemployment rate was 17% at January 2021, down from 13.1% at January 2020 according to Trading Economics.
Rwanda’s capital city is Kigali.
See also South Sudan’s Top 10 Exports, Somalia’s Top 10 Exports, Top African Export Countries and South Africa’s Top 100 Imported Consumer Products
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles. Accessed on July 30, 2021
Forbes, Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on July 30, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Databases (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on July 30, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on July 30, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on July 30, 2021
Wikipedia, Flag of Rwanda. Accessed on July 30, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Rwanda. Accessed on July 30, 2021
Wikipedia, Rwanda. Accessed on July 30, 2021
World’s Capital Cities, Capital Facts for Kigali, Rwanda. Accessed on July 30, 2021