South Africa Trade: Still The Largest Platinum Exporter In The World. But For How Long?

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south africa map
Source: WikiMedia Commons

Econ omy of South Africa – Overview

South Africa is the 33rd largest export economy in the world and it’s currently running a negative trade balance of $4.57 billion after deducting its annual import total of $73.7 billion from a yearly export total of $69.1 billion.

The country has reverted back to a negative annual trade balance, which was $7.05 billion back in 1995, but remained in positive territory during the intervening period until imports overtook export numbers in 2016 again.

South Africa’s GDP per capita is $13,200, which ranks it 53rd of the 89 countries measured against.

South Africa’s Top 5 Commodity Exports

CommodityAmount (Annually)
Platinum $6.03 billion
Coal Briquettes $3.81 billion
Iron Ore $3.58 billion
Diamonds $1.97 billion
Citrus Fruits $1.16 billion

South Africa’s Other Notable Exports

  1. Cars – $5.23 billion
  2. Delivery Trucks – $2.75 billion
  3. Refined Petroleum – $1.65 billion
  4. Centrifuges – $1.63 billion
  5. Raw Aluminium – $785 million

China is the top export destination for South African products ($6.81 billion), followed by the United States ($5.47 billion), Germany ($5.26 billion), Botswana ($3.71 billion) and Namibia ($3.53 billion).

South Africa’s Top 5 Commodity Imports

CommodityAmount (Annually)
Crude petroleum $6.54 billion
Corn $630 million
Diamonds $352 million
Wheat $305 million
Palm Oil $287 million

South Africa’s Other Notable Imports

  1. Cars – $3.34 billion
  2. Computers – $1.68 billion
  3. Packaged Medicaments – $1.42 billion
  4. Broadcasting Equipment – $1.87 billion
  5. Telephones – $1.13 billion

More Information on South Africa’s Commodities


South Africa is the largest exporter of platinum in the world and has a 28.3% market share of a global annual export market worth $21.3 billion.

Although the country still leads the way in terms of export volumes, the World Platinum Council predicts volumes to decline, with some mines closing or slowing production.

The decline in platinum production across the globe can be largely attributed to a fall in demand from the autocatalyst manufacturing sector, which accounts for about 40% of all platinum use.

The shift away from diesel vehicles is likely to have an impact as petrol-powered vehicles use palladium catalysts.

Coal Briquettes

South Africa has a 5.6% share of the global export market, which is worth $67.7 billion annually.

Australia dominates the market with a 40% market share and South Africa is the sixth-largest exporter behind Indonesia, Russia, Colombia and the United States.

India is a major destination for the country’s coal briquettes, taking 40% of all South Africa’s exports, followed by Pakistan, who imports 7.3% of the annual export total.

Iron Ore

South Africa is the third largest exporter of iron ore and has a 5% share of a global export market valued at $71.8 billion annually.

Although iron ore is in demand for construction projects around the world, the value of iron exports has actually fallen by just over 45% in the most recent five-year period.

Some countries have experienced a rapid decline in export numbers, with Kazakhstan experiencing an 84% drop, Russia (down 67.8%) and the United States (down 60.5%).

However, South Africa has not suffered such a sizeable fall, despite being one of the fourteen out of the top fifteen countries to experience a fall in export numbers.


South Africa is the 10th largest exporter of diamonds in the world and has a 1.5% share of a global market worth $127.6 billion.

The country’s three largest mines are designed to expand their outputs and are predicted to maintain a viable production level for up to 50 more years.

Citrus Fruits

The country is the third largest exporter of citrus and has an 8.9% share of a global market that is worth $13.1 billion each year.

China, Germany and the United States are the top three destinations for South African citrus exports and make these countries account for 25% of their annual total.

A Few Interesting Facts

  • South Africa is the only country in the world to have voluntarily abandoned its nuclear weapons program.
  • The country has three official capital cities. Pretoria, the Executive Capital; Cape Town, the Legislative Capital; and Bloemfontein, the Judicial Capital.
  • Table Mountain in Cape Town is believed to be one of the oldest mountains in the world and is also one of the planet’s identifiable energy centers.
  • South Africa has eleven official languages, which is more than any other country.

All Figures based on OEC/IMF 2016 projections unless otherwise stated.

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