By far, Taiwan’s biggest export is electronic integrated circuits. That commodity represents over a third of the total shipments by value from Taiwan, Province of China. The island of Taiwan was once known as Formosa and may be referred to as Chinese Taipei in some online documents.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2020, the new Taiwan dollar appreciated by 8.5% against the US dollar since 2016 and increased by 4.3% from 2019 to 2020. Taiwan’s stronger local currency makes its exports paid for in weaker US dollars relatively more expensive for international buyers.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 87.7% of products exported from Taiwan were bought by importers in: China (29.7% of the global total), United States (14.7%), Hong Kong (14.2%), Japan (6.8%), Singapore (5.5%), South Korea (4.4%), Vietnam (3%), Malaysia (2.7%), Netherlands (1.8%), Germany (1.7%), Philippines (1.6%) and Thailand (1.5%).
From a continental perspective, 73.3% of Taiwan’s exports by value were delivered to fellow Asian countries while 16.1% were sold to importers in North America. Taiwan shipped another 8.2% worth of goods to Europe. Smaller percentages went to Oceania led by Australia (1.1%), Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.8%) and Africa (0.5%).
Given Taiwan’s population of 23.6 million people, its total $347.2 billion in 2020 exports translates to roughly $14,700 for every resident in the East Asian province.
Taiwan’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Taiwanese global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Taiwan.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$174.6 billion (50.3% of total exports)
- Machinery including computers: $44.8 billion (12.9%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $18.6 billion (5.4%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $16.8 billion (4.8%)
- Vehicles: $10.1 billion (2.9%)
- Iron, steel: $7.5 billion (2.2%)
- Organic chemicals: $7.2 billion (2.1%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $7.1 billion (2%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $6.2 billion (1.8%)
- Copper: $4.1 billion (1.2%)
Taiwan’s top 10 exports accounted for (85.6% of the overall value of its global shipments in 2020.
Electrical machinery and equipment represents the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 18.5% from 2019 to 2020. The only other annual gain was 6.8% for exported optical, technical and medical apparatus.
The leading decliner among Taiwan’s top 10 export categories was mineral fuels including oil thanks to a -51.9% drop year over year.
At the more detailed four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, Taiwan’s most valuable exported product is integrated circuits and microassemblies (35.5% of total). In second place is computer parts or accessories (3.5%), computers including optical readers (3.1%), unrecorded sound media (2.7%), phone system devices including smartphones (2.6%), liquid crystal, laser or optical tools (2%), processed petroleum oils (1.7%), printed circuits (1.6%), television, radio and radar device parts (also 1.6%), then solar power diodes and semi-conductors (1.4%).
Taiwan generated an overall $59.8 billion trade surplus from all goods bought and sold on international markets during 2020, up 37% from the $43.6 billion in black ink one year earlier.
The following types of Taiwanese 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.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$81.3 billion (Up by 19.9% since 2019)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $10.9 billion (Down by -13.1%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $4.9 billion (Down by -21%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $2.8 billion (Down by -18.7%)
- Base metal tools, cutlery: $2.3 billion (Down by -1.9%)
- Knit or crochet fabric: $1.8 billion (Down by -18.3%)
- Toys, games: $1.8 billion (Up by 8.6%)
- Manmade filaments: $1.7 billion (Down by -27.1%)
- Machinery including computers: $1.6 billion (Up by 174.2%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $1.5 billion (Up by 0.8%)
Taiwan has highly positive net exports in the international trade of electrical goods including consumer electronics. In turn, these cashflows indicate Taiwan’s world-renown competitive advantages under the electrical machinery and equipment category.
Below are exports from Taiwan that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Taiwan’s goods trail Taiwanese importer spending on foreign products.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$23.4 billion (Down by -25.5% since 2019)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$3.8 billion (Up by 3.5%)
- Other chemical goods: -$2.8 billion (Up by 10%)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$2.4 billion (Down by -3.9%)
- Meat: -$1.6 billion (Up by 1.4%)
- Oil seeds: -$1.4 billion (Up by 1.7%)
- Cereals: -$1.3 billion (Down by -9.3%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: -$1.3 billion (Down by -42.2%)
- Inorganic chemicals: -$1.1 billion (Up by 53.9%)
- Wood: -$1 billion (Down by -1.7%)
Taiwan has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for mineral fuels-related products particularly crude oil, petroleum gases and coal.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Taiwan’s competitive disadvantages in the international energy market, but also represent key opportunities for Taiwan to improve its position in the global economy through focused innovations on alternative energy sources.
Taiwanese Export Companies
Forty-seven corporations rank among Forbes Global 2000. Below is a sample of the major Taiwanese companies that Forbes included.
- Advanced Semiconductor (semiconductors)
- Asustek Computer (computer hardware)
- Cheng Shin Rubber Industry Co. (automotive parts)
- China Steel (iron, steel)
- Delta Electronics (electronics)
- Formosa Chemicals (specialized chemicals)
- Formosa Petrochemical (oil, gas)
- Formosa Plastics (specialized chemicals)
- Hon Hai Precision (electronics)
- Mediatek (semiconductors)
- Nan Ya Plastics (diversified chemicals)
- Pegatron (electronics)
- Quanta Computer (computer hardware)
- Taiwan Semiconductor (semiconductors)
- Uni-President (food processing)
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following companies are also examples of Taiwanese export companies.
- Acer Inc. (computers, smartphones, other electronics)
- Faithful Taiwan (wooden furniture, plastic bags, miscellaneous plastic articles)
- Hosoda Taiwan (automobile steering mechanisms)
- Swire Coca Cola Taiwan (soft drinks, green tea, sparkling wines)
- Taiwan Specco (furniture parts, mountings, seat parts)
In macroeconomic terms, Taiwan’s total exported goods represent 26.4% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($1.316 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 26.4% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2020 compares to 25.3% for 2019. Those percentages suggest a relatively increasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Taiwan’s total economic performance, albeit based on a short timeframe. Please note that these metrics include re-exporting activity.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Taiwan’s unemployment rate was 3.73% in February 2021, down from 4.1% at April 2020 according to Trading Economics.
Taiwan’s capital city is Taipei.
See also Taiwan’s Top 10 Major Export Companies, Taiwan’s Top 10 Imports, Taiwan’s Top Trading Partners and China’s Top 10 Imports
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on April 14, 2021
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on April 14, 2021
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on April 14, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on April 14, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on April 14, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on April 14, 2021
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on April 14, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Taiwan. Accessed on April 14, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on April 14, 2021
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on April 14, 2021