That dollar amount reflects a -11.2% decrease since 2016 and a -23.5% drop from 2019 to 2020.
Sierra Leone’s 5 biggest export products by value are titanium ores and concentrates, rough wood, aluminum ores and concentrates, cocoa beans and unset diamonds. Collectively, Sierra Leone’s 5 most valuable exports represent 78.3% of all exported goods from the West African country. That percentage shows a highly concentrated set of exports.
Sierra Leone’s Key Trading Partners
The latest available country-specific data from 2018 shows that 90.5% of products exported from Sierra Leone were bought by importers in: China (18.3% of the global total), South Korea (14%), Netherlands (13.5%), Somalia (10.8%), Ghana (8%), Romania (7.8%), Germany (5.3%), Guinea (4.5%), Senegal (3%), Ivory Coast (1.9%), Belgium (1.8%) and India (1.6%).
From a continental perspective, 34.8% of Sierra Leone’s exports by value in 2019 were delivered to fellow African countries while 34.5% were sold to importers in Asia. Sierra Leone shipped another 30.1% worth of goods to Europe.
Tinier percentages went to North America (0.5%), Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.08%) then Oceania Australia only (0.02%).
Given Sierra Leone’s population of 8 million people, its total $559.1 million in 2020 exports translates to roughly $70 for every resident in the West African nation.
Sierra Leone’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups categorize the highest dollar value in Sierra Leonean 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 Sierra Leone.
- Ores, slag, ash: US$244.9 million (43.8% of total exports)
- Wood: $124.6 million (22.3%)
- Cocoa: $52 million (9.3%)
- Gems, precious metals: $42.1 million (7.5%)
- Fish: $15.2 million (2.7%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $13.6 million (2.4%)
- Machinery including computers: $13.3 million (2.4%)
- Iron, steel: $8.6 million (1.5%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $5.2 million (0.9%)
- Other chemical goods: $4.7 million (0.8%)
Sierra Leone’s top 10 exports accounted for 93.8% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Miscellaneous chemical goods represent the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 2,009% from 2019 to 2020.
In second place for improving export sales was the coffee, tea and spices via a 52.9% gain, propelled by stronger international sales of coffee.
Sierra Leone’s shipments of cocoa posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 52.8%.
The leading decliner among Sierra Leone’s top 10 export categories was gems and precious metals, thanks to a -67.2% drop dragged down by shrinking sales of unset diamonds and gold.
Drilling down to 4-digit HTS codes, Sierra Leone’s most valuable exported goods in 2020 were: titanium ores and concentrates (29.7%), rough wood (21.9`%), aluminum ores and concentrates (10.2%), coco beans (9.2%), unfinished diamonds (7.4%), frozen whole fish (2.5%), niobium or zirconium ores and concentrates (also 2.5%), iron or steel scrap (1.3%), precious metal ores and concentrates (1%) then coffee (0.9%).
The following types of Sierra Leonean 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.
- Ores, slag, ash: US$244.9 million (Down by -22.2% since 2019)
- Wood: $119.4 million (Down by -4.4%)
- Cocoa: $48.3 million (Up by 49.3%)
- Gems, precious metals: $41.3 million (Down by -66.9%)
- Fish: $14.9 million (Down by -46.9%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $3 million (Up by 162.1%)
- Copper: $2.5 million (Down by -17.8%)
- Oil seeds: $246,000 (Down by -19.1%)
- Vegetable plaiting materials: $73,000 (Down by -82.9%)
- Collector items, art, antiques: $58,000 (Down by -1.7%)
Sierra Leone has highly positive net exports in the international trade of ores and concentrates including titanium, aluminum and iron. In turn, these cashflows indicate Sierra Leone’s strong competitive advantages under the ores, slag and ash product category.
Sierra Leone racked up an estimated -$561.4 million trade deficit for 2020 up by 26.6% from -$443.5 million in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Sierra Leone that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Sierra Leone’s goods trail Sierra Leonean importer spending on foreign products.
- Cereals: -US$133.9 million (Up by 23.7% since 2019)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$79.6 million (Up by 96.5%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$75.8 million (Down by -10.8%)
- Machinery including computers: -$73.4 million (Down by -11%)
- Vehicles: -$65.4 million (Down by -1%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$52.6 million (Down by -53.6%)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: -$42.9 million (Down by -4.2%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$37.2 million (Down by -21.1%)
- Iron, steel: -$35.3 million (Up by 21.1%)
- Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: -$26.5 million (Up by 13.3%)
Weighed down by declining revenues for imported rice and to a lesser extent corn, barley and wheat, Sierra Leone has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the cereals category.
Sierra Leonean Export Companies
Not one Sierra Leonean corporation ranks among the Forbes Global 2000 list.
Wikipedia lists companies from Sierra Leone that participate in international trade transactions. Selected examples are shown below.
- Fly 6ix (airliner)
- Rokel Commercial Bank (commercial banking)
- Sierra Leone Brewery Limited (alcoholic beverages)
- Sierra Leone Commercial Bank (commercial banking)
- Union Trust Bank (commercial banking)
In macroeconomic terms, Sierra Leone’s total exported goods represent 4.1% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($13.8 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 4.1% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2020 compares to 5.2% for 2019. Those percentages suggest a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Sierra Leone’s total economic performance, albeit based on a relatively short timeframe.
Another key indicator of economic performance is the unemployment rate. Sierra Leone’s average unemployment rate was 4.6% in 2020, up from an average 4.3% according to Trading Economics.
Sierra Leone’s capital city is Freetown.
See also South Sudan’s Top 10 Exports, Somalia’s Top 10 Exports and Top African Export Countries
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Africa: Sierra Leone. Accessed on August 7, 2021
Forbes 2016 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on August 7, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Databases (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on August 7, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on August 7, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on August 7, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Sierra Leone. Accessed on August 7, 2021
Wikipedia, Flag of Sierra Leone. Accessed on August 7, 2021
Wikipedia, Sierra Leone. Accessed on August 7, 2021
World’s Capital Cities, Capital Facts for Freetown, Sierra Leone. Accessed on August 7, 2021