Based on the average exchange rate for 2020, the Zimbabwean dollar appreciated by 68.8% against the US dollar since 2006. Zimbabwe’s stronger local currency makes its exports paid for in weaker US dollars relatively more expensive for international buyers over that timespan.
The 5 biggest exports from Zimbabwe are: nickel matte and oxide sinters; gold; unmanufactured tobacco; nickel ores and concentrates; and unset diamonds. Those 5 most valuable exports represent 78.8% of all Zimbabwean exports by value. That percentage believes Zimbabwe’s highly concentrated portfolio of exported goods.
Zimbabwe’s Major Trading Partners
The latest available country-specific data shows that 77.5% of products exported from Zimbabwe were bought by importers in: South Africa (39.4% of the global total), United Arab Emirates (20.3%), Mozambique (9.3%), Uganda (2.9%), Belgium (1.7%), Zambia (1.2%), Kenya (1.1%), Botswana (0.9%), Hong Kong (0.4%), Ukraine (0.2%), Namibia (0.1%) and Malawi (0.1%).
From a continental perspective, 70.7% of Zimbabwe’s exports by value were delivered to fellow African countries while 26.7% were sold to importers in Asia. Zimbabwe shipped another 2.6% worth of goods to Europe.
Tinier percentages went to North America (0.02%), Oceania led by Australia (0.009%) then Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.0007%).
Given Zimbabwe’s population of 15.2 million people, its total $4.4 billion in 2020 exports translates to roughly $290 for every resident in the southern African country.
Zimbabwe’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Zimbabwean global shipments during 2020 at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Zimbabwe.
- Gems, precious metals: US$1.3 billion (30.6% of total exports)
- Nickel: $985.3 million (22.4%)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $795 million (18.1%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $662.1 million (15.1%)
- Iron, steel: $144.2 million (3.3%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $76.9 million (1.8%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $48.3 million (1.1%)
- Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $38.5 million (0.9%)
- Raw hides, skins not furskins, leather: $31 million (0.7%)
- Cotton: $30.1 million (0.7%)
Zimbabwe’s top 10 exports accounted for 94.5% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Nickel was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 101.7% from 2019 to 2020.
In second place for improving export sales was sugar including sugar confectionery via a 22.4% gain.
The only other top product category to post a gain was mineral fuels including oil (up 0.2%).
The leading decliner among Zimbabwe’s top 10 export categories was iron and steel, thanks to a -37.8% drop year over year.
From the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, in 2020 Zimbabwe’s most valuable exported products was nickel matte and oxide sinters (22.4% of global total), gold (also 22.4%), unmanufactured tobacco including tobacco waste (16.9%), nickel ores and concentrates (13.9%), unset diamonds (3.2%), iron ferroalloys (also 3.2%), unrefined platinum (3.1%), jewelry (1.9%), sugar (1.7%) then chromium ores and concentrates (1%).
The following types of Zimbabwean 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.
- Gems, precious metals: US$1.3 billion (Down by -4% since 2019)
- Nickel: $985.2 million (Up by 101.8%)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $776.6 million (Down by -5.4%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $659.8 million (Down by -16%)
- Sugar, sugar confectionery: $72.3 million (Up by 19.4%)
- Raw hides, skins not furskins, leather: $29.9 million (Down by -1.9%)
- Cotton: $27.9 million (Down by -25.8%)
- Fruits, nuts: $27.8 million (Down by -15.9%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $19.5 million (Down by -17.4%)
- Iron, steel: $16.3 million (Down by -86%)
Zimbabwe has highly positive net exports in the international trade of gold. In turn, these cashflows indicate Zimbabwe’s strong competitive advantages under the gems and precious metals category.
Zimbabwe racked up an overall -$653 million trade deficit during 2020, up by 26.9% from -$514.5 million in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Zimbabwe that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Zimbabwe’s goods trail Zimbabwean importer spending on foreign products.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$768.8 million (Down by -45.8% since 2019)
- Machinery including computers: -$629.8 million (Up by 16%)
- Cereals: -$516.1 million (Up by 285.6%)
- Vehicles: -$321.9 million (Down by -11.7%)
- Fertilizers: -$232.4 million (Up by 19.7%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$215.6 million (Up by 15.5%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$186.5 million (Down by -9.2%)
- Other chemical goods: -$186.5 million (Up by 27.7%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$185.6 million (Up by 5%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: -$168.4 million (Up by 82.9%)
Zimbabwe has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for mineral fuels-related products notably refined petroleum oils, electricity and petroleum gases.
Zimbabwean Export Companies
Not one Zimbabwean corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000.
Wikipedia also lists exporters from Zimbabwe. Selected examples are shown below.
- Border Timbers (forestry products)
- Colcom Foods Limited (meat processing)
- Cotton Company of Zimbabwe (cotton lint, cottonseed)
- Dairibord Zimbabwe Ltd (milk, other dairy products)
- Hippo Valley Estate (sugar)
- Sable Chemicals (fertilizer, ammonia nitrate)
- Tanganda Tea (tea, coffee)
- Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (iron, steel)
In macroeconomic terms, Zimbabwe’s total exported goods represent 11% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($39.8 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 11% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2020 compares to 10.6% for 2019. These percentages suggest a relatively increasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Zimbabwe’s total economic performance, albeit based on a short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Zimbabwe’s average unemployment rate was 5.7% for 2020, up from an average 5% in 2019 according to the International Monetary Fund.
Zimbabwe’s capital city is Harare.
See also Zimbabwe’s Top 10 Imports, Top African Export Countries, South Africa’s Top 100 Imported Consumer Products and Nigeria’s Top 10 Exports
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, Africa: Zimbabwe. Accessed on August 9, 2021
Forbes 2020 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on August 9, 2021
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on August 9, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on August 9, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on August 9, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on August 9, 2021
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on August 9, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Zimbabwe. Accessed on August 9, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on August 9, 2021
Wikipedia, Zimbabwe. Accessed on August 9, 2021