That dollar amount reflects an 8.4% increase from $11.7 billion worth of shipments during 2017.
Year over year, the value of Sri Lankan exports accelerated by 18.8% from $10.7 billion in 2020.
An island country located in the Indian Ocean considered a South Asian nation, Sri Lanka is located immediately off the southeastern coast of the Asian economic powerhouse India.
At the more detailed 4-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level, Sri Lanka’s top 5 most valuable exported products are tea, unknitted and non-crocheted brassieres and corsets, knitted or crocheted women’s underwear and pajamas), knitted or crocheted women’s clothing, and knitted or crocheted t-shirts or vests. Collectively, that quintet of major Sri Lankan exports represent almost one-quarter (24.1%) of the overall value of goods shipped from Sri Lanka.
Generally, a wide range of clothing dominates many of Sri Lanka’s most valuable exported goods.
Sri Lanka’s Biggest Trading Partners
The latest available country-specific data shows that about two-thirds (66.3%) of products exported from Sri Lanka were bought by importers in: United States of America (24.8% of the global total), United Kingdom (8.9%), India (6.1%), Germany (5.7%), Italy (4.5%), Belgium (2.93%), Netherlands (2.87%), China (2.4%), Canada (2.11%), Turkey (2.1%), United Arab Emirates (2%) and Japan (1.9%).
The latest available country-specific data shows that 66.3% of products exported from Sri Lanka were bought by importers in: United States (24.8% of the global total), United Kingdom (8.9%), India (6.1%), Germany (5.7%), Italy (4.5%), Belgium (2.93%), Netherlands (2.87%), mainland China (2.4%), Canada (2.11%), Turkey (2.1%), United Arab Emirates (2%) and Japan (1.9%).
From a continental perspective, 35.4% of Sri Lanka’s exports by value were delivered to European countries while 29.2% was sold to importers in Asia. Sri Lanka shipped another 28.4% worth of goods to North America.
Smaller percentages went to Africa (2.6%), Latin America (2.3%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean, then Oceania (2.1%) led by Australia and New Zealand.
Given Sri Lanka’s population of 22 million people, its total $11.7 billion in 2021 exports translates to roughly $600 for every resident in the South Asian country. That dollar metric outpaces the average $490 per capita for 2020.
Sri Lanka’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups categorize the highest dollar value in Sri Lankan global shipments during 2021. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Sri Lanka.
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: US$3.5 billion (27.1% of total exports)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $2 billion (15.7%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $1.2 billion (9.3%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $1.1 billion (8.8%)
- Gems, precious metals: $548.3 million (4.3%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $360.6 million (2.8%)
- Fish: $341.4 million (2.7%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $301.9 million (2.4%)
- Machinery including computers: $299 million (2.4%)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: $195.2 million (1.5%)
By value, Sri Lanka’s top 10 exports accounted for over three-quarters (77%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Gems and precious metals represent the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 243.9% from 2020 to 2021.
In second place for improving export sales was machinery including computers via a 119.6% gain.
Sri Lanka’s shipments of miscellaneous food preparations appreciated by 97.5%.
The lone decliner among Sri Lanka’s top 10 export categories was coffee, tea and spices dragged down by a -32% reduction.
From the more granular 4-digit HTS code level, tea including flavored varieties represent Sri Lanka ’s most valuable exported product at 5.8% of the island country’s total. In second place was unknitted and non-crocheted bras and corsets (5.6%) trailed by women’s knit or crocheted underwear and pajamas (4.9%), unknit and non-crocheted women’s clothing in general (4.3%), knit or crocheted t-shirts and vests (3.5%), knit or crocheted gloves and mitts (3.5%) then unknit and non-crocheted women’s clothing (also 3.5%), used or retread rubber tires (3.1%), vulcanized rubber clothing or accessories (also 3.1%), and unknit and non-crocheted men’s suits or trousers (3%)..
Sri Lanka’s Biggest Product Trade Surpluses
The following types of Sri Lankan 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.
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: US$3.4 billion (Up by 36.6% since 2020)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $1.9 billion (Up by 28.9%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $982.9 million (Down by -34.4%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $796.2 million (Up by 35.3%)
- Gems, precious metals: $345 million (Up by 712.4%)
- Fish: $273 million (Up by 229.4%)
- Vegetable plaiting materials: $138.4 million (Up by 885.7%)
- Fruits, nuts: $128 million (Down by -0.4%)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: $125.5 million (Up by 351%)
- Paper yarn, woven fabric: $96.2 million (Down by -44.5%)
Sri Lanka has highly positive net exports particularly in the international trade of knitted or crocheted clothing and accessories. In turn, these cashflows indicate Sri Lanka’s strong competitive advantages under that product category.
Sri Lanka’s Worst Product Trade Deficits
Sri Lanka incurred an overall -$4.87 billion trade deficit in 2021, flatlining via a -0.6% slowdown from -$4.9 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Sri Lanka that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Sri Lanka’s goods trail Sri Lankan importer spending on foreign products.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$1.7 billion (Down by -2.7% since 2020)
- Machinery including computers: -$1.4 billion (Up by 28.5%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$1 billion (Up by 4%)
- Knit or crochet fabric: -$865.6 million (Up by 24.6%)
- Iron, steel: -$759 million (Up by 41.1%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$746.2 million (Up by 53.2%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$681.9 million (Up by 59.2%)
- Cotton: -$545 million (Up by 10.8%)
- Cereals: -$493.5 million (Up by 27.8%)
- Manmade filaments: -$426.9 million (Up by 88%)
Sri Lanka has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the mineral fuels category, notably refined petroleum oils and coal.
Sri Lankan Export Companies
Not one Sri Lankan corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000.
Wikipedia lists exporters from Sri Lanka. Although relatively smaller companies compared to global leaders, selected examples are shown below.
- Ceylon Biscuits Limited (biscuits)
- Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (petroleum, natural gas)
- Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (tobacco, food, beverages)
- Colombo Dockyard (ships, boats)
- Daintee (confectionery, other food products)
- Dilmah (tea)
- Distilleries Company of Sri Lanka (food, beverages)
- Micro Cars (automobiles)
- Pelwatte Sugar Industries PLC (sugar, milk, alcohol)
- Rainco (umbrellas, mosquito nets, rainwear)
In macroeconomic terms, Sri Lanka’s total exported goods represent 4.1% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2021 ($312.7 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 4.1% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2021 compares to 3.5% for 2020. Those percentages suggest a relatively increasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Sri Lanka’s total economic performance, albeit based on a relatively short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Sri Lanka’s unemployment rate averaged 5.3% for 2021 down from an average 5.5% in 2020, according to metrics from the International Monetary Fund.
Sri Lanka’s administrative capital city is Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, while the island country’s commercial capital is Colombo.
See also Sri Lanka’s Top 10 Imports, Tea Exports by Country Plus Average Prices, Top US Trading Partners, United Kingdom’s Top Trading Partners and India’s Top Trading Partners
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook report on South Asia: Sri Lanka. Accessed on June 15, 2022
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on June 15, 2022
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity)
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on June 15, 2022
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on June 15, 2022
United States Census Bureau, Foreign Trade . Accessed on June 15, 2022
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on June 15, 2022
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Sri Lanka. Accessed on June 15, 2022
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on June 15, 2022