South Africa flag South Africa: Economic and Political Overview

Foreign trade figures of South Africa

Foreign Trade in Figures

South Africa is very open to international trade, which represents around 65% of its GDP (World Bank, latest data available). The country mainly exports platinum (13.7%, as the country produces 80% of the global output), coal (11%), iron ores (5.3%), motor vehicles (4.7%), and gold (4.3%). The main imports are petroleum oils (16.7%), motor vehicles (4%), crude oil (3.9%), and telephones (3.3% - Comtrade).

South Africa's top exporting countries are China (9.6%), the United States (8.8%), Germany (7.3%), Japan (7%), and the UK (5.2%). One-fifth of imports come from China, followed by India (7.4%), Germany (7.3%), the U.S. (7.3%), and Saudi Arabia (4% - Comtrade). South Africa is the EU's largest trading partner in Africa: exports to the EU have been growing and becoming more diverse, with the country moving from mainly commodity-based products to a more diversified export profile that includes manufactured goods (World Bank). In 2022, South Africa conducted intra-African merchandise trade worth around USD 40 billion, 17% of its total merchandise trade (+13% y-o-y). South Africa's key African trading partners included Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, collectively contributing to 51% of its intra-African merchandise trade.

According to the latest available data from WTO, in 2022, South Africa exported products for USD 122.9 billion, while it imported USD 136.2 billion of goods. The country imported services for a total value of USD 17.8 billion, whereas its exports in the same year reached USD 12.3 billion. The overall trade balance was estimated to be positive by 2% of GDP in 2022 (World Bank). According to the South African Reserve Bank, in Q3 2023, South Africa's trade surplus with the world widened to ZAR 189 billion, driven by a significant drop in merchandise imports compared to exports, including net gold exports. The terms of trade worsened as import prices rose and export prices fell due to declining global commodity prices. Despite increases in manufacturing and agricultural exports, overall merchandise exports dropped by 3%, mainly due to a decline in non-gold mining exports. Merchandise imports decreased by 9.5%, reversing 12 consecutive quarters of increases.

 
Foreign Trade Indicators 20182019202020212022
Foreign Trade (in % of GDP) 54.654.150.856.264.9
Trade Balance (million USD) 1,8702,48717,66730,48414,039
Trade Balance (Including Service) (million USD) 1,9861,93915,02026,0148,516
Imports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 3.20.4-17.49.514.2
Exports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 2.7-3.4-11.910.07.5
Imports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 27.126.823.225.031.5
Exports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 27.627.327.631.233.4

Source: World Bank ; Latest available data

Foreign Trade Forecasts 20232024 (e)2025 (e)2026 (e)2027 (e)
Volume of exports of goods and services (Annual % change) 3.53.53.63.73.7
Volume of imports of goods and services (Annual % change) 4.14.03.93.83.8

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook ; Latest available data

Note: (e) Estimated Data

 
International Economic Cooperation
South Africa is a member of the following international economic organisations: African Union, WTO, G-20, G-24, G-77, ICC, IMF, among others. For the full list of economic and other international organisations in which participates South Africa click here. International organisation membership of South Africa is also outlined here.
Free Trade Agreements
The complete and up-to-date list of Free Trade Agreements signed by South Africa can be consulted here.
 

Main Partner Countries

Main Customers
(% of Exports)
2023
China 11.3%
United States 7.5%
Germany 6.8%
Mozambique 5.6%
Japan 5.2%
See More Countries 63.6%
Main Suppliers
(% of Imports)
2023
China 20.5%
United States 8.6%
Germany 8.1%
India 7.0%
United Arab Emirates 3.7%
See More Countries 52.1%

Source: Comtrade, 2023. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

 
 

Main Products

121.6 bn USD of products exported in 2022
Platinum, incl. palladium, rhodium, iridium,...Platinum, incl. palladium, rhodium, iridium, osmium and ruthenium, unwrought or in semi-manufactured forms, or in powder form 13.7%
Coal; briquettes, ovoids and similar solid fuels...Coal; briquettes, ovoids and similar solid fuels manufactured from coal 11.0%
Iron ores and concentrates, incl. roasted iron...Iron ores and concentrates, incl. roasted iron pyrites 5.3%
Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally...Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons, incl. station wagons and racing cars (excl. motor vehicles of heading 8702) 4.7%
Gold, incl. gold plated with platinum, unwrought...Gold, incl. gold plated with platinum, unwrought or not further worked than semi-manufactured or in powder form 4.3%
See More Products 60.9%
111.9 bn USD of products imported in 2022
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals (excl. crude); preparations containing >= 70% by weight of petroleum oils or of oils obtained from bituminous minerals, these oils being the basic constituents of the preparations, n.e.s.; waste oils containing mainly petroleum or bituminous minerals 16.7%
Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally...Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons, incl. station wagons and racing cars (excl. motor vehicles of heading 8702) 4.0%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 3.9%
Telephone sets, incl. telephones for cellular...Telephone sets, incl. telephones for cellular networks or for other wireless networks; other apparatus for the transmission or reception of voice, images or other data, incl. apparatus for communication in a wired or wireless network [such as a local or wide area network]; parts thereof (excl. than transmission or reception apparatus of heading 8443, 8525, 8527 or 8528) 3.3%
Automatic data-processing machines and units...Automatic data-processing machines and units thereof; magnetic or optical readers, machines for transcribing data onto data media in coded form and machines for processing such data, n.e.s. 1.8%
See More Products 70.2%

Source: Comtrade, 2023. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

 
 

To go further, check out our service Import-Export Flows.

 

Main Services

Source: United Nations Statistics Division, 2024. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

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Latest Update: April 2024