Working Papers

An analysis of South African agricultural trade, 2010 to 2014 inclusive: highlighting the importance of Africa

An analysis of South African agricultural trade, 2010 to 2014 inclusive: highlighting the importance of Africa

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26 May 2016

Author(s): Ron Sandrey, Tinashe Kapuya and Asanda Jafta

Until mid-November 2013 it was not possible to accurately assess the profile of South Africa’s agricultural trade. It was only at that date that the South African Revenue Service (SARS) announced the revision of trade statistics that entailed the inclusion of the trade data between South Africa and Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland (BLNS) which was previously excluded in the compilation of trade statistics. This revision covered trade data from 2010 to 2012 and then moving forward direct trade with the BLNS will be included to provide accurate reflection of South Africa’s trade. The objective of this paper is to take advantage of trade data that comprehensively includes the BLNS and allows for a full picture of the agricultural trade profile for South Africa. For agricultural products we have used the World Trade Organisation (WTO) definitions.

For South African agricultural exports, Africa is significantly more important than the EU as a destination, while the aggregate BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are more important than the first single destinations of Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates and the United States of America. This new data highlights the importance of the BLNS countries of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland and emphasises how this improved reporting of BLNS trade is allowing a comprehensive analysis of South Africa’s agricultural trade. Furthermore, for South African destinations within Africa the feature is that immediate or very close neighbours dominate the list.

By product South Africa exported R105.5 billion worth of agricultural exports in 2014, which constitutes 10.8% of the country’s overall total exports for the year. The top 20 products at the HS 4 level accounted for 66.1% of these total agricultural exports during 2014, while the top five accounted for 36.8% of the total (indicating that exports are relatively concentrated). These top five were citrus fruits, wine, maize, grapes and apples and pears.

The EU is the main source of South African imports, and this share is increasing: from 25.7% in 2010 through to 32.4% in 2014. Similarly, the import share from BRICs is also increasing, while the aggregate share from each of Africa, ASEAN and BLNS declined over the period.

Overall the global South African picture is one whereby exports were 54% above imports for 2014 (although note that by conventional measures imports are undervalued). For the EU these ratios are similar, while the real importance of Africa is highlighted where South African agricultural exports to the continent are around four times the comparable imports. For the BLNS exports are around three times that of imports, while for the BRICs exports are only one half of imports.


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