flag South Africa South Africa: Trade Profile

In this page: Foreign Trade in Figures | Trade Compliance | Standards


Foreign Trade in Figures

South Africa is very open to international trade, which represented around 56% of the country’s GDP in 2022 (World Bank, 2023). The country mainly exports platinum (12.6%), gold (7.9%), iron ores (7.2%), motor vehicles (5.4%), and coal and similar solid fuels (4.6%). The main imports are petroleum oils (12.6%), transmission apparatus for radio-telephony (3.6%), motor vehicles (3.1), medicaments (2.6%) and automatic data processing machines units (2.1% - Comtrade).

South Africa's top exporting countries are China, the United States, Germany, the UK, Japan and the Netherlands. One-fifth of imports come from China, followed by Germany, the U.S. and India. South Africa is the EU's largest trading partner in Africa: exports to the EU have been growing and becoming more diverse, with the country moving from mainly commodity-based products to a more diversified export profile that includes manufactured goods (World Bank, 2023). In 2019, the African Union launched the operational phase of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), establishing a single market for goods and services across 54 countries - making it the world's largest free trade area by number of countries.

According to the latest available data from WTO, in 2021, South Africa exported products for USD 123.57 billion, while it imported USD 113.98 billion USD of goods. The country imported services for a total value of USD 13.3 billion, whereas its exports of services in the same year reached USD 8.8 billion. After recording a trade surplus of USD 9.5 billion in 2021 (World Bank), South Africa's preliminary trade surplus for the 11 months to the end of November 2022 was R187.8 billion, less than half of the R402-billion recorded over the same period in 2022 (South African Revenue Service, January 2023).

Foreign Trade Indicators 20182019202020212022
Foreign Trade (in % of GDP) 54.654.150.856.264.9
Trade Balance (million USD) 1,8702,48717,66730,48414,039
Trade Balance (Including Service) (million USD) 1,9861,93915,02026,0148,516
Imports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 3.20.4-17.49.514.2
Exports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 2.7-3.4-11.910.07.5
Imports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 27.126.823.225.031.5
Exports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 27.627.327.631.233.4

Source: World Bank, Latest data available.

Foreign Trade Forecasts 2023 (e)2024 (e)2025 (e)2026 (e)2027 (e)
Volume of exports of goods and services (Annual % change)
Volume of imports of goods and services (Annual % change)

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook, Latest data available.

Note: (e) Estimated Data


Main Partner Countries

Main Customers
(% of Exports)
China 9.6%
United States 8.8%
Germany 7.3%
Japan 7.0%
United Kingdom 5.2%
See More Countries 62.1%
Main Suppliers
(% of Imports)
China 20.1%
India 7.4%
Germany 7.3%
United States 7.3%
Saudi Arabia 4.0%
See More Countries 53.8%

Source: UN Comtrade Database, Latest data available.


Main Products

121.6 bn USD of products exported in 2022
Platinum, incl. palladium, rhodium, iridium,...Platinum, incl. palladium, rhodium, iridium, osmium and ruthenium, unwrought or in semi-manufactured forms, or in powder form 13.7%
Coal; briquettes, ovoids and similar solid fuels...Coal; briquettes, ovoids and similar solid fuels manufactured from coal 11.0%
Iron ores and concentrates, incl. roasted iron...Iron ores and concentrates, incl. roasted iron pyrites 5.3%
Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally...Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons, incl. station wagons and racing cars (excl. motor vehicles of heading 8702) 4.7%
Gold, incl. gold plated with platinum, unwrought...Gold, incl. gold plated with platinum, unwrought or not further worked than semi-manufactured or in powder form 4.3%
See More Products 60.9%
111.9 bn USD of products imported in 2022
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals (excl. crude); preparations containing >= 70% by weight of petroleum oils or of oils obtained from bituminous minerals, these oils being the basic constituents of the preparations, n.e.s.; waste oils containing mainly petroleum or bituminous minerals 16.7%
Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally...Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons, incl. station wagons and racing cars (excl. motor vehicles of heading 8702) 4.0%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 3.9%
Telephone sets, incl. telephones for cellular...Telephone sets, incl. telephones for cellular networks or for other wireless networks; other apparatus for the transmission or reception of voice, images or other data, incl. apparatus for communication in a wired or wireless network [such as a local or wide area network]; parts thereof (excl. than transmission or reception apparatus of heading 8443, 8525, 8527 or 8528) 3.3%
Automatic data-processing machines and units...Automatic data-processing machines and units thereof; magnetic or optical readers, machines for transcribing data onto data media in coded form and machines for processing such data, n.e.s. 1.8%
See More Products 70.2%

Source: UN Comtrade Database, Latest data available.


To go further, check out our service Import/Export Flows.


Main Services

Source: United Nations Statistics Division, Latest data available.


Exchange Rate System

Local Currency
South African Rand (ZAR)
Exchange Rate Regime
Independently floating
Level of Currency Instability
Slightly votalite since 2016
Exchange Rate on :

Monetary Indicators 20162017201820192020
South African Rand (ZAR) - Average Annual Exchange Rate For 1 MUR 0.410.390.390.410.42

Source: World Bank, Latest data available.


Find out all the exchange rates daily on our service Currency Converter.

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Trade Compliance

International Conventions
Member of the World Trade Organization (WTO)
Party to the Kyoto Protocol
Party to the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
Party to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal
Party to the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer
Party to the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls For Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies
International Economic Cooperation
South Africa is a member of the following international economic organisations: African Union, WTO, G-20, G-24, G-77, ICC, IMF, among others. For the full list of economic and other international organisations in which participates South Africa click here. International organisation membership of South Africa is also outlined here.
Free Trade Agreements
The complete and up-to-date list of Free Trade Agreements signed by South Africa can be consulted here.
Party of the ATA Convention on Temporary Admissions and Use of the Carnets

As a Reminder, the ATA is a System Allowing the Free Movement of Goods Across Frontiers and Their Temporary Admission Into a Customs Territory With Relief From Duties and Taxes. The Goods Are Covered By a Single Document Known as the ATA Carnet That is Secured By an International Guarantee System.
Party of the TIR Convention

As a Reminder, the TIR Convention and its Transit Regime Contribute to the Facilitation of International Transport, Especially International Road Transport, Not Only in Europe and the Middle East, But Also in Other Parts of the World, Such as Africa and Latin America.
Accompanying Documents For Imports
  • Bill of Lading;
  • Commercial invoice stating the price charged to the importer;
  • Insurance documents;
  • Packing list; and
  • A declaration of Origin Form DA59 is needed if rate of duty lower than the standard rate.

To go further, check out our service Shipping Documents.

Free-trade zones
In South Africa, Special Economic Zones may be sector-specific or multi-product and the following categories of SEZs have been defined as per the SEZ Act No. 16 of 2014:

- “Industrial Development Zone”
- “Free Port”
- “Free Trade Zone”
- “Sector Development Zone”.

There are currently eleven operating Special Economic Zones in South Africa, namely: Atlantis SEZ, Nkomazi SEZ, Coega IDZ, Richards Bay IDZ, East London IDZ, Saldanha Bay IDZ, Dube TradePort, Maluti – A- Phofung SEZ, OR Tambo SEZ, Musina/Makhado SEZ, the Tshwane Automotive Special Economic Zone (TASEZ). For details on the specific advantages offered by each SEZ, consult the portals of InvestSA and of the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition.

For Further Information
South African Revenue Service
Non Tariff Barriers
Import licences are required for a certain number of products (refer to Schedule 1 of the Import Control Regulations Act). These licences are delivered by the following authorities (as per the nature of the product): the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Energy and the Department of Health.
Some products are subject to specific controls (caution: the below list is not exhaustive):
- A phytosanitary certificate is required for vegetables and related products, as well as animal products such as bacon, hides and honey. It is delivered by the Ministry of Agriculture from the country of origin.
- A veterinarian certificate is required for the import of living animals and fresh, frozen or canned meat.
- A certificate of disinfection is necessary for the import of wool products, cotton, clothes, etc.
- A certificate of inspection by a recognised institute is required only for exporters who export for the first time in South Africa, it is not required when a good business relationship has been established.
- A quality certificate may be asked for fruits and vegetables.
Sectors or Products For Which Commercial Disagreements Have Been Registered With the WTO
Pharmaceutical Products.
The WTO gives details of these disagreements. 
Assessment of Commercial Policy
South African commercial policy, as seen by the WTO
Barriers to exchanges, inventoried by the United States
SACU, Southern African Customs Union
Barriers to exchanges, inventoried by the EU
Sanitary and phytosanitary barriers, inventoried by the EU

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National Standards Organisations
South African Bureau of Standards (SABS)
Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA)
Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)
Human Science Research Council (HSRC)
Integration in the International Standards Network

SABS is a member of:

Obligation to Use Standards
The standards proposed by SABS are obligatory in those cases concerned with public safety (Chemicals, Food and Health, Electric and Electronic equipment). Only 53 of SABS’s approximately 5,000 standards are actually mandatory.
Classification of Standards
SABS Standards
Assessment of the System of Standardization
The SABS Mark is highly regarded in South Africa, and it is a powerful marketing tool which can increase the sales potential in this market as well as in neighboring markets. For standards for certain agricultural and agricultural-related products, visit The Directorate of Plant Health and Quality within the National Department of Agriculture. Electronic equipment must be tested by SANAS' accredited laboratories.
Online Consultation of Standards
SABS Online Standards Webstore
Certification Organisations
SANAS South African National Accreditation System.
SACCI South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Associations of Standards Users
Association of Security Engineers of South Africa (ASESA)
South African Agricultural Machinery Association(SAAMA)

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Latest Update: November 2023