What the latest trade data tells us about Zimbabwe’s exports


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Zimbabwe exported goods worth US$4.39 billion in 2020, a marginal 2.7% increase from 2019’s US$4.28 billion, in a tough year in which COVID-19 hit commodity demand and cut off trade links.

What else does Zimbabwe’s trade data, just released by ZimStat, tell us about the economy?

Minerals still dominate exports

Despite all the government rhetoric over the years about value addition, Zimbabwe’s exports are still made up mostly of primary commodities, largely minerals. Of the US$4.4 billion earned from exports, mineral exports accounted for US$3.2 billion, or a massive 73% of all our exports.

Gold lost its number 1 spot on official exports

Traditionally, gold has been Zimbabwe’s biggest export. This changed in 2020, a year in which gold deliveries fell by 31% to reach 19.1 tonnes, the lowest output in six years.

For now, nickel mattes – which are really PGM mattes – are the biggest exports. In 2020, Zimbabwe exported US$985 million worth of mattes, just beating gold – at US$982 million – into second place. Nickel ores and concentrates earned US$612 million, diamonds did US$141 million, ferroalloys US$140 million and platinum brought in US$134 million.

Processed foods exports growing

Zimbabwe exported more processed food in 2020 than it did in 2019. Exports rose 17.96% to US$115 million from US$98 million in 2019.

These exports were dominated by sugar, which earned US$76 million. Others included fruit juices (US$5.6 million) and pastry products (US$3.7 million).

According to ZimTrade, the export promotion agency, this growth was due to access into new markets. Zimbabwean producers increased investment in better technologies and adopted global standards and accreditations on food safety and traceability, ZimTrade says.

Tobacco: processed exports up

Zimbabwe is a major exporter of raw tobacco, but managed a marginal growth in manufactured tobacco, whose share of leaf exports rose from 1.06% in 2019 to 1.22%. In terms of value, Zimbabwe exported US$54 million of processed tobacco products in 2020, from US$45 million in 2019.

Driving part of this growth was the export of cigars and cigarettes, which grew by 71% from US$15 million in 2019 to US$26 million in 2020.

Tobacco exports also found new markets in 2020. In addition to traditional key markets in China, Indonesia and the UAE, there was a rise in exports into Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana.

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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