Trade Data Analysis

South Africa trading relationship with Africa – Trade at a Glance 2016

South Africa trading relationship with Africa – Trade at a Glance 2016

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Africa presents an opportunity for South Africa to expand its markets, given the political impetus to create a continental free trade area in Africa, which will provide duty free access to countries which South Africa has no preferences. On South Africa’s part, the issue of export competitiveness becomes critical, especially given that third party countries such as China, Brazil and India are currently competing successfully with South Africa in countries where South Africa has preferences, such as SADC.

This brief provides a snapshot of South Africa’s trade performance with African trading partners. The aim is to give an idea of South Africa’s main partners, and the major products or sectors that South Africa is trading in. All data is sourced from the United Nations (UN) International trade Centre (ITC) TradeMap database and data is analysed over the review period from 2010-2016. To analyse performance and trends we make use of two main indicators, namely market share and growth with the latter calculated as a compound annual growth rate (CAGR). As this is a snapshot analysis, the analysis provided is purely descriptive.

Big Picture – trade performance

  • In 2016, total trade between South Africa and Africa totalled just above US$ 29 billion. Of this more than 66% was accounted for by exports and the remainder imports, thus showing that South Africa is a dominant player in the African market and Africa is an important market for South Africa (close to 30% of RSA global exports stay in Africa and only 11% of South Africa’s import are from Africa);

  • In terms of performance, South Africa’s trade with Africa has been on the decline for both exports and imports recording a -1% (CAGR) decline in growth (both imports and exports) over the review period 2010-2016. However, this was relatively better than the global average growth which was declining at -2% (CAGR) over the review period (2010-2016).

  • Despite being a big player in Africa, South Africa’s trade is heavily skewed to the Southern and East African region. More specifically trade with member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). 2016 trade data reveals that 88% and 90% of South Africa’s exports and imports are with countries from SADC and the East African Community (EAC) Furthermore, of the SADC states, most trade is with the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) with Botswana, Namibia being the major trading partners for both imports and exports within SACU. SACU’s BLNS (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia; Swaziland) accounted for 44% and 27% of South Africa’s exports and imports to Africa respectively in 2016. Outside of Southern and East Africa, only Nigeria and Ghana feature in the top 15 export destinations while for imports, Nigeria; Togo, Morocco and Egypt feature.


This Brief updates a previous analysis covering the period 2006 to 2015.

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Synopsis: South Africa trading relationship with Africa – Trade at a Glance 2016 - Author(s): Taku Fundira
Spreadsheet: South Africa trading relationship with Africa | July 2017
Infographic: South Africa’s trade relationship with Africa | August 2017 - Author(s): Taku Fundira

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