From 2019 to 2020, the value of Sri Lankan exports fell by -10.6%.
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.
In general, clothing dominates many of Sri Lanka’s most valuable exported goods.
At the more detailed 4-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level, Sri Lanka’s number 1 export is tea. The top 3 exported goods (tea, unknitted and non-crocheted brassieres and corsets, and knitted or crocheted women’s underwear and pajamas) represent 21.7% of the overall value of goods shipped from Sri Lanka.
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 (2.9%), Netherlands (also 2.9%), China (2.4%), Canada (2.1%), Turkey (also 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% were 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 excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (2.3%), and Oceania (2.1%) led by Australia and New Zealand.
Given Sri Lanka’s population of 21.9 million people, its total $10.7 billion in 2020 exports translates to roughly $490 for every resident in the South Asian country.
Insights on Sri Lanka’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups categorize the highest dollar value in Sri Lankan global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Sri Lanka.
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: US$2.5 billion (23.8% of total exports)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $1.6 billion (15.3%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $1.6 billion (14.8%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $870.5 million (8.1%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $298.5 million (2.8%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $274.1 million (2.6%)
- Miscellaneous textiles, worn clothing: $234.4 million (2.2%)
- Fish: $214.9 million (2%)
- Paper yarn, woven fabric: $196.9 million (1.8%)
- Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $192.1 million (1.8%)
Sri Lanka’s top 10 exports accounted for three-quarters (75.2%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Miscellaneous textiles and worn clothing represent the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 133.1% from 2019 to 2020.
In second place for improving export sales were vegetable, fruit or nut preparations via a 38.4% gain.
Sri Lanka’s shipments of paper yarn and woven fabric posted the third-fastest gain in value, up by 18.1%.
The leading decliner among Sri Lanka’s top 10 export categories was unknitted and non-crocheted clothing or accessories thanks to a -26.1% year-over-year drop.
From the more granular 4-digit HTS code level, tea including flavored varieties represent Sri Lanka ’s most valuable exported product at 12.4% of the island country’s total. In second place was unknitted and non-crocheted bras and corsets (4.7%) trailed by women’s knit or crocheted underwear and pajamas (4.6%), unknit and non-crocheted women’s clothing in general (4%) then knitted or crocheted t-shirts or vests (3.8%), knitted or crocheted gloves and mitts (3%) then used or retread rubber tires (2.8%)..
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$2.5 billion (Down by -16.9% since 2019)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $1.5 billion (Up by 2.1%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $1.5 billion (Down by -25.5%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $588.6 million (Up by 4.2%)
- Miscellaneous textiles, worn clothing: $191.3 million (Up by 179%)
- Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $178.1 million (Up by 46.2%)
- Paper yarn, woven fabric: $173.5 million (Up by 23.9%)
- Fruits, nuts: $128.5 million (Up by 32.2%)
- Fish: $82.9 million (Down by -40.4%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $64.3 million (Up by 300.2%)
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 incurred an overall -$4.9 billion trade deficit in 2020, down -34.7% from -$7.5 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$1.8 billion (Down by -42% since 2019)
- Machinery including computers: -$1.1 billion (Down by -12.4%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$991.3 million (Down by -0.4%)
- Knit or crochet fabric: -$694.7 million (Down by -17.6%)
- Iron, steel: -$537.8 million (Down by -17.2%)
- Vehicles: -$535.4 million (Down by -57.4%)
- Cotton: -$491.7 million (Down by -23.1%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$487.1 million (Up by 11%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$428.5 million (Down by -32.7%)
- Cereals: -$386.2 million (Up by 8.5%)
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 3.5% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($307 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 3.5% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2020 compares to 3.6% for 2019. Those percentages suggest a relatively decreasing 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 average unemployment rate was 5.8% for 2020 up from 4.8% one year earlier, 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, Top Asian Export Countries and United States Top 100 Imported Consumer Products
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook report on South Asia: Sri Lanka. Accessed on July 21, 2021
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on July 21, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on July 21, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on July 21, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on July 21, 2021
United States Census Bureau, Foreign Trade . Accessed on July 21, 2021
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on July 21, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Sri Lanka. Accessed on July 21, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on July 21, 2021