South Carolina’s biggest export in 2020 was aircraft including engines and parts accounting for 13.3% of the state’s aggregated exports revenue. In addition to aircraft, the state’s other top 3 exports were mid-sized automobiles with piston engine and large automobiles powered by diesel engine representing a combined 34.2% of the state’s total. Those commodities suggest a relatively concentrated range of exported goods.
South Carolina ranks among America’s 15 biggest exporters by state behind front-runners including Texas, California, New York and Louisiana. The value of South Carolina’s exports equals 2.1% of United States’ overall exported products for 2020.
Based on statistics from the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), South Carolina’s exported products represent 14.7% of the state’s total economic output or real Gross Domestic Product in 2020 ($206.2 billion in current dollars based on BEA statistics). That percentage compares with 19.4% one year earlier.
Given South Carolina’s population of 5.21 million people, its total $30.3 billion in 2020 exports translates to roughly $5,800 for every resident in the Palmetto State.
South Carolina’s unemployment rate was 5.1% at March 2021, down from 11.5% in April 2020 per YCharts.
South Carolina’s Top 10 Exports
The following export products represent the highest dollar value in South Carolina global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from South Carolina.
Figures are shown at the more granular six-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, for more precise product identification.
- Aircraft including engines, parts: US$4 billion (13.3% of South Carolina’s total exports)
- Mid-sized automobiles (piston engine): $3.9 billion (13%)
- Large automobiles (diesel engine): $2.4 billion (7.9%)
- Automobiles (both spark ignition and electric motors): $1.9 billion (6.4%)
- New rubber tires for specialty vehicles: $895 million (3%)
- Large automobiles (piston engine): $729 million (2.4%)
- Mid-sized automobiles (diesel engine): $589 million (1.9%)
- Motor vehicle body parts, accessories: $508 million (1.7%)
- Motor vehicle transmissions: $377 million (1.2%)
- Machinery or mechanical appliance parts: $353 million (1.2%)
South Carolina’s top 10 exports represent 52% of the overall value of the state’s global shipments.
There were 2 gainers year over year among the state’s top 10 export categories led by automobiles with both spark ignition plus electric motors (up 1,079%) and large automobiles powered by piston engine (up 32.5%).
The leading decliners from 2019 to 2020 among South Carolina top 10 export products were aircraft including engines and other parts (down -67.4%), mid-sized automobiles with diesel engine (down -52.4%) and machinery or mechanical appliance parts (down -48.3%).
More Key Facts
South Carolina incurred an overall -$12 billion deficit exporting and importing products during 2020, reversing a $1.3 billion surplus in 2019.
Another way of saying surplus or deficit is positive or negative net exports. In a nutshell, the term “net exports” quantifies the amount by which foreign spending on a state’s goods or services exceeds or lags that same state’s spending on foreign goods or services.
Below are South Carolina’s top 10 import products highlighting the state’s highest spending on foreign-made goods in 2020.
- Uranium U235/plutonium compounds, mixtures: $935 million (2.3% of South Carolina’s total imports)
- Hand tools with electric motors: $889 million (2.2%)
- Large spark-ignition engines: $876 million (2.2%)
- Miscellaneous motor vehicle parts: $825 million (2.1%)
- Motor vehicle body parts, accessories: $768 million (1.9%)
- Miscellaneous precious metal scrap: $707 million (1.8%)
- Motor vehicle transmissions: $610 million (1.5%)
- Electrical boards and panels: $555 million (1.4%)
- Solar power semi-conductors, photovoltaic cells: $526 million (1.3%)
- Car tires (rubber, pneumatic): $513 million (1.3%)
South Carolina has negative net exports in the international trade of uranium U235/plutonium compounds and mixtures. In turn, these cashflows indicate South Carolina’s competitive disadvantages under this product category.
The following list shows the top 10 customers that purchased about two-thirds (67%) worth of the total value of products exported from South Carolina during 2020.
- Germany: $4.1 billion (13.5% of South Carolina’s total exports)
- Canada: $4 billion (13.2%)
- China: $3.9 billion (12.8%)
- Mexico: $1.8 billion (6%)
- Belgium: $1.4 billion (4.7%)
- United Kingdom: $1.4 billion (4.5%)
- Japan: $1.18 billion (3.9%)
- South Korea: $1.16 billion (3.8%)
- Taiwan: $855 million (2.8%)
- Australia: $843 million (2.8%)
South Carolina’s top trade partners in Asia (China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan) consume 23.3% of the overall value of exported goods from the Palmetto State. This compares with 19.1% for North American importers in Canada and Mexico.
South Carolina Export Companies
Five of South Carolina-based corporations rank among Fortune 1000 Companies, a list that showcases America’s largest businesses. Selected examples of companies headquartered or operationally based in South Carolina are shown below.
- ScanSource (security, networking, barcode, technology)
- Resolute Forest Products (pulp/paper mill)
- Sonoco Products Co. (packaging products)
- Domtar Corp (paper, paper goods)
Shown within brackets for each company is a summary of the international trade-related products or services which each business sells.
South Carolina’s capital is Columbia, a city nicknamed “Cola” and “The Capital of Southern Hospitality”.
See also America’s Top 20 Export States, United States Top 10 Exports and Top United States Trade Balances
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International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on April 26, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on April 26, 2021
United States Census Bureau, Foreign Trade (State by 6-Digit HS Code). Accessed on April 26, 2021
United States Census Bureau, QuickFacts: South Carolina. Accessed on April 26, 2021
Wikipedia, Categories:Companies based in South Carolina. Accessed on April 26, 2021
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Wikipedia, South Carolina. Accessed on April 26, 2021
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