Building capacity to help Africa trade better

South Africa: a 2018 trade and investment profile

South Africa: a 2018 trade and investment profile

South Africa: a 2018 trade and investment profile

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This brief and accompanying infographics provide an update on merchandise trade, services and investment in South Africa for 2018. Specific product sectors examined include agricultural goods, clothing and textiles, gold and diamonds, and motor vehicles and parts.

Merchandise trade

South Africa had a small trade surplus of US$998 million for 2018, with total merchandise exports of US$94.4 billion and imports of US$93.4 billion. South Africa’s top trading partners for 2018 are China, Germany, the United States, India and the United Kingdom. The main products exported are platinum, coal, motor cars, gold and iron ore. The main import products are crude oil, petroleum oils (not crude), motor cars and telephone sets (including cell phones).

More than 26% of exports from South Africa are to the rest of the African continent. Key exports include mineral fuels, machinery, vehicles and iron and steel. The European Union (EU) is also an important export destination, with exports accounting for more than 23% of the value of South Africa’s merchandise exports. Key products include vehicles; precious stones and metals; fruits and nuts; ores, slag and ash and machinery. Between 2017 and 2018 exports to China remained unchanged, while exports to the USA were down by about 4%. Exports to the UK increased by 27%.

From 2017 to 2018, South Africa’s trade in gold and diamonds, motor vehicles and parts, clothing and textiles, poultry, grapes, citrus fruits and apples increased. In 2018, vehicle imports and imports of clothing and textiles and vehicle parts accounted for 5%, 5% and 3%, respectively of South Africa’s total imports. Vehicle exports and exports of gold contributed 10% and 6%, respectively to South Africa’s total exports for 2018.


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