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Malaysia Commodity Trade: Learn Why Palm Oil Is A Volatile Export

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In this guide to the Malaysian economy we’ll give you an overview of the economy as a whole, including GDP and including Malaysia’s primary imports and exports of goods and services.

Economy of Malaysia

The country of Malaysia has enjoyed decades of industrial growth and political stability, helping it attain a position as the 20th largest export economy in the world.

malaysia map
Map of Malaysia via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Malaysia’s total annual exports amount to $270 billion and its imports for the same period come to $212 billion, resulting in a positive trade balance of $57.6 billion.

The country is generally viewed as having a vibrant economy. Malaysia has seen a $2.1 billion rise in the annual value of its exports over the last five years — from $288 billion (2013) to $270 billion (2018).

The GDP of Malaysia is $359 billion, resulting in a GDP per capita of $11,373.

Malaysia’s Top 5 Commodity Exports

  1. Iron Blocks – $61,332,142.00
  2. Iron Sheet Piling – $40,565,977.00
  3. Commodities not elsewhere specified – $33,510,376.00
  4. Cheese – $16,865,362.00
  5. Other Processed Fruits and Nuts – $14,543,091.00

Malaysia’s Other Notable Exports

  • Cars – $64 million
  • Rubber Tires – $38 million
  • Self-adhesive Plastics – $31 million
  • Non-woven Textiles – $29 million
  • Trailers – $27 million
  • Palm oil – $11 million

Top export destinations of Malaysia are Singapore ($36.8 billion), China ($36.1 billion), the United States ($28.3 billion), Hong Kong ($19.5 billion), and Japan ($17.2 billion).

Malaysia’s Top 5 Commodity Imports

  1. Refined Petroleum – $69 million
  2. Commodities not elsewhere specified – $54 million
  3. Scrap Iron – $35 million
  4. Cheese – $23 million
  5. Scrap Aluminum – $15 million

Malaysia’s Other Notable Imports

  • Cars – $223 million
  • Packaged Medicaments – $36 million
  • Rubberworking Machinery – $24 million
  • Computers – $24 million
  • Telephones – $21 million

Details About Malaysia’s Imports/Exports

Here’s more background information about some of Malaysia’s trade.

Refined Petroleum

Global export sales of refined petroleum are worth $753 billion annually and Malaysia is the 11th largest exporter with $19.1 billion (about 2.5% of the overall export market).

Malaysia’s refined petroleum was exported mostly to Asian countries. Among its fastest-grown customers between 2017-2018 were China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh.


The annual value of global aluminum shipments is $61.1 billion and Malaysia is the 9th largest exporter with a 3.6% market share.

Malaysia has posted strong growth in aluminum export values over the previous year, with an increase of $316 million (16.8%).

Exported aluminum from Malaysia primarily went to Vietnam ($346 million), South Korea ($310 million), Turkey ($273 million), India ($247 million), and Japan ($206 million).


Cars represent $782 billion in yearly global exports, with Malaysia contributing $431 million (0.06%) as the 43rd biggest car exporter worldwide.

Cars from Malaysia primarily went to Thailand ($313 million), Indonesia ($46.9 million), Philippines ($28.3 million), Chinese Taipei ($5.5 million), and Sri Lanka ($4.47 million).

Palm Oil

Although Malaysia is the second biggest exporter of palm oil after Indonesia, it isn’t a huge part of their overall economy because of its size and diversity.

Interesting Facts About Malaysia

  • Malaysia boasts 40,934 miles of highways, which is more than the Earth’s circumference.
  • The country has the biggest roundabout in the world. Located in Putrajaya, it is 2.2 miles in diameter.
  • The Pomelo, an indigenous fruit of Malaysia, is the largest citrus fruit in the world.
  • Petronas is the only Malaysian company that makes the Fortune Global 500 and accounts for about a third of the government’s tax revenue.

All figures based on OEC/IMF 2018 calculations and projections unless otherwise stated.

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