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January-June 2020 trade data: intermediates destined for African countries in transit through South Africa

By Willemien Viljoen
03 Sep 2020
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January-June 2020 trade data: intermediates destined for African countries in transit through South Africa
Photo credit: Brand South Africa

Although numerous African countries are yet to release trade data for 2020, South Africa’s trade data for the first six months of 2020[1] not only include South Africa’s official trade figures, but also data on goods in transit through South Africa destined for other African countries (mainly neighbouring southern African countries). This transit data gives an indication of the flow of goods to other African countries for January to June 2020. 79 percent of all goods which are in transit in South Africa are destined for other African countries. Most of these goods originate in countries outside the African continent. Only 3 percent are goods which both originate in and are destined for an African country (excluding South Africa). Most goods transiting through to other African destination markets are vehicles, medicines and electronic equipment. Goods in transit also include intermediate products[2] including parts, malt extracts, glucose, food and drink additives, isocyanates and invert sugar syrup. The data shows that 1 percent of all goods in transit that are destined for another African country are food and beverage products for industry use, 0.2 percent are fuels and lubricants, 25 percent parts and accessories and 2 percent primary industrial supplies not anywhere else specified.

  1. Inputs into the food and beverage industry

    Intermediate goods used in the food and beverage industry destined for African countries are mostly malt extract which is used in the beverage industry (especially brewing beer) and have various food applications (breakfast cereals, bread and other baked goods and infant formula). Almost all malt extract originates in Ireland and are destined for Congo, DRC, Gabon, Angola, Benin and Zambia. Other inputs imported include milk powder from Ireland destined for Zambia, tapioca (used as a thickener and binder) from Mozambique and Thailand to Zambia, soy bean flour (also used as a thickener and for the production of candies and baked goods) destined for Zambia from Germany and China and glucose and invert sugar syrups to Nigeria, Botswana and Lesotho for the use in the production of mixed drinks and baked goods.

  2. Fuels and lubricants

    Very little of the fuels and lubricants, both in primary and processed form destined for African countries are exported via South Africa. The majority of those which are, are lubricating oils and greases from the US destined for Zimbabwe and from Sweden destined for Zambia.

  3. Parts and accessories

    25 percent of goods destined for African countries which are transported via South Africa are parts and accessories for transport equipment; 63 percent of which originate in some of the main car manufacturing countries (US, Japan, Germany and China) with 20 percent of these parts and accessories destined for Namibia, 17 percent for Zambia, 15 percent for DRC and 11 percent for Zimbabwe. Most imports are parts for heavy equipment including construction vehicles and forklifts, new pneumatic tyres, steering kits, parts for boring and sinking machinery and parts for machines used for mixing of concrete and mineral substances. The US, China, Germany and Japan are the main suppliers of parts for heavy equipment; however, parts are also sourced from a variety of other interesting sources – Australia (destined for Tanzania), Canada (to Namibia, Zambia & Zimbabwe), France (destined for Botswana), Mexico (to Angola, Zambia & DRC), Sweden (to Namibia, Zambia & Botswana) and UK (to Zambia, DRC, Namibia, Botswana & Angola).

  4. Primary industrial supplies not specified elsewhere

    More than half of primary industrial supplies are unworked diamonds, the majority of which are re-imports by Botswana and diamonds originating in Canada and Namibia destined for Botswana. If diamonds are removed from the data the remaining products are mainly sulphur, vegetable seeds, slag and ash containing mainly copper and sausage casings. 74 percent of primary industrial supplies shipped via South Africa are destined for Zambia, DRC and Kenya. Goods destined for Zambia include slag and ash containing copper from Singapore, sulphur from the UAE and sausage casings from China and Netherlands. Almost all goods destined for DRC are sulphur originating in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kazakhstan and for Kenya vegetable seeds originating in China and Thailand. Isocyanates used in the production of polyurethane for paints and varnishes and increasingly used in the motor vehicle industry from China and Germany are also shipped via South Africa mainly to Kenya and Nigeria.

The data shows that the majority of goods which are shipped via South Africa to other African countries originate outside the African continent and are mainly consumer goods, including vehicles and medicines. The volumes of intra-Africa traded goods in transit through South Africa tend to be low and are mainly items of clothing (especially trousers, shirts and t-shirts) traded among the members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) – originating in Madagascar, Mauritius, Eswatini, Lesotho and Tanzania destined for Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and Zambia. Apart from unworked diamonds, hardly any other intermediate goods shipped via South Africa are sourced from other African countries. The majority of intermediate goods are from countries beyond the African continent – inputs for the food and beverage industry from Ireland and Europe, parts and accessories from traditional vehicle manufacturing countries, lubricants from Sweden and the US and primary industrial supplies excluding diamonds from Asia and the Middle East.

The data is indicative of the sourcing inputs into value chains for many African countries – essential inputs are mostly sourced from outside the continent (when we exclude South Africa) as these inputs are either not produced on the continent or produced in limited supply. For instance, some glucose is produced in Eswatini and Mauritius and tapioca in Mozambique which are exported to other African countries but only supplement current supply from further afield. There is a renewed focus on local and regional value chains due to the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent preventative measures taken disrupting global value chains and distribution channels. Consequently, the question is to what extent can existing intermediate production in African countries be ramped up to meet demand? How and where can investment and industrial development facilitate value addition to the existing production of primary products like milk, sugar, barley and petroleum products to meet the demand for necessary inputs like milk powders, glucose and invert sugar syrups, malt extracts and lubricants and greases?


[1]  pdf South Africa Merchandise Trade Statistics: July 2020 including BELN (263 KB)

[2] The United Nation (UN) classification of goods by Broad Economic Categories (BEC) divides goods into 19 BEC basic categories which corresponds with the basic classes of goods in the System of National Accounts (SNA) – capital goods, intermediate goods and consumption goods. https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/ramon/other_documents/bec/BEC_Rev_4.pdf

About the Author(s)

Willemien Viljoen

Willemien Viljoen

Willemien Viljoen holds a Master’s degree in Economics and a Bachelor of Laws degree (LLB) from the University of Stellenbosch. Her research interests are in regional integration and international trade policy, and specifically in issues pertaining to non-tariff barriers to trade, trade data analysis and modeling and trade and climate change.

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