That dollar amount reflects a 21.2% increase since 2016 and a 12.1% acceleration from 2019 to 2020.
Zambia is a landlocked nation in Africa’s southern region.
The 3 biggest exports by value from Zambia are unrefined copper, refined copper and copper ores or concentrates. Collectively, that trio of copper-related products exported by Zambia represent about three-quarters (74.4%) of the country’s overall shipments by value in 2020.
Zambia’s Major Trading Partners
The latest available country-specific data shows that 96.3% of products exported from Zambia were bought by importers in: Switzerland (44.3% of the global total), China (18.7%), Democratic Republic of the Congo (12.4%), Singapore (11.6%), South Africa (2.6%), Malawi (1.3%), Luxembourg (1.3%), Zimbabwe (also 1.3%), Namibia (0.8%), Tanzania (0.7%), Hong Kong (also 0.7%) and Kenya (0.5%).
From a continental perspective, 46.7% of Zambia’s exports by value were delivered to European countries while 31.9% were sold to importers in Asia. Zambia shipped another 21.1% worth of goods to fellow African nations.
Tinier percentages went to North America (0.3%), Oceania led by Australia (0.02%) and Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.01%).
Given Zambia’s population of 18.9 million people, its total $7.8 billion in 2020 exports translates to approximately $400 for every resident in the African nation.
Zambia’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Zambian global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Zambia.
- Copper: US$5.7 billion (73.5% of total exports)
- Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $252 million (3.2%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $239.8 million (3.1%)
- Gems, precious metals: $157.7 million (2%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $123.5 million (1.6%)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $116.6 million (1.5%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $115.6 million (1.5%)
- Inorganic chemicals: $102.7 million (1.3%)
- Iron, steel: $92.9 million (1.2%)
- Machinery including computers: $90 million (1.2%)
Zambia’s top 10 exports accounted for 90.1% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Mineral fuels including oil represents the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 1,524% from 2019 to 2020.
In second place for improving export sales was ores, slag and ash via a 576.4% gain.
Zambia’s shipments of tobacco including manufactured substitutes posted the third-fastest gain in value, up by 63.8%.
The leading decliner among Zambia’s top 10 export categories was inorganic chemicals, thanks to a -39% drop year over year.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, Zambia’s most valuable exported products are unrefined copper (53.9% of the total), refined copper (18.2%) and copper ores or concentrates (2.3%). Copper-related exports rank far ahead of Zambia’s other exported commodities including hydraulic cements (1.6%), unmanufactured tobacco and tobacco waste (1.4%), electrical energy (also 1.4%), sulphuric acid or oleum (1.2%) then sugar (1.1%).
Zambia posted a $2.5 billion trade surplus during 2020, reversing a -$264.4 million deficit for 2019.
The following types of Zambian 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.
- Copper: US$5.7 billion (Up by 14.2% since 2019)
- Ores, slag, ash: $165.1 million (Reversing a -$124.2 million deficit)
- Gems, precious metals: $157.2 million (Down by -29.8%)
- Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $143.5 million (Up by 169.8%)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $115.3 million (Up by 65.8%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $105.9 million (Down by -19.9%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $51.4 million (Up by 194.9%)
- Soaps, washing preparations, lubricants, waxes: $33.2 million (Up by 488.9%)
- Food industry waste, animal fodder: $25.8 million (Down by -5.7%)
- Cereal/milk preparations: $18.1 million (Up by 32.7%)
Zambia has highly positive net exports in the international trade of its most lucrative export, copper-related materials. In turn, these cashflows indicate Zambia’s strong competitive advantages under the copper product category.
Below are exports from Zambia that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Zambia’s goods trail Zambian importer spending on foreign products.
- Machinery including computers: -US$677.5 million (Down by -31.9% since 2019)
- Vehicles: -$409 million (Down by -25.1%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: -$395.7 million (Down by -68.3%)
- Fertilizers: -$392.6 million (Up by 23.5%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$268.4 million (Down by -4.6%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$258.7 million (Up by 28%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$247.5 million (Down by -38.6%)
- Other chemical goods: -$205.4 million (Up by 3.7%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: -$129 million (Up by 0.7%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$123.2 million (Down by -54%)
Zambia has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the machinery including computers product category.
Zambian Export Companies
Not one Zambian corporation ranks on the Forbes Global 2000 of biggest businesses.
Wikipedia lists exporters from Zambia including companies engaged in international trade. Selected examples are shown below.
- Chilanga Cement (cement, cement clinker)
- Konkola Copper Mines (copper mining, smelter)
- Zambeef Products (beef, milk, eggs)
- Zambezi Airlines (airliner)
- Zambian Breweries Plc (lagers, bottling)
- ZCCM Investments Holdings (copper-mining conglomerate)
In macroeconomic terms, Zambia’s total exported goods represent 12.1% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($64.6 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 12.1% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2020 compares to 9.1% for 2019. Those percentages suggest a relatively increasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Zambia’s total economic performance, albeit based on a short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Zambia’s average unemployment rate was 12.2% for 2020, down from an average 13.2% in 2019 according to Trading Economics.
Zambia’s capital city is Lusaka.
See also Uganda’s Top 10 Exports, Nigeria’s Top 10 Exports, South Africa’s Top 10 Exports and Top African Export Countries
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Africa: Zambia. Accessed on September 21, 2021
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on September 21, 2021
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on September 21, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on September 21, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on September 21, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on September 21, 2021
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on September 21, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Zambia. Accessed on September 21, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on September 21, 2021
Wikipedia, Zambia. Accessed on September 21, 2021