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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 represents around 60% of the country’s GDP. In 2017 South Africa shipped USD 89.5 billion worth of products, an increase of 20.8% from 2016 (nevertheless, the value of exports is down by 5.9% when compared to 2013).
South Africa's top trading partners are China (9.6%), the United States (7.5%), Germany (7.1%), Japan and India (4.7%), Botswana (4.3%) and Namibia (4%). The country mainly exports gems and precious metals (16.7% of total exports), ores, slag, ash (12.6%), mineral fuels including oil (11.8%), vehicles (11%).
The main imports are electronic equipment - particularly mobile phones and electricity generators – pharmaceutical products and mineral fuels.
Overall South Africa obtained a USD 6.3 billion trade surplus for 2017 (against a deficit of USD 633 million in 2016).

Foreign Trade Indicators 20122013201420152016
Imports of Goods (million USD) 127,154126,359121,965104,62091,580
Exports of Goods (million USD) 99,60695,93891,04781,67375,091
Imports of Services (million USD) 18,43817,59916,62515,11114,954
Exports of Services (million USD) 17,20316,40116,45814,66514,360
Imports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 4.25.0-0.55.4-3.7
Exports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change)
Imports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 31.233.332.931.530.1
Exports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 29.730.931.230.430.3
Trade Balance (million USD) -4,443-7,588-5,958-2,9831,109
Trade Balance (Including Service) (million USD) -5,718-8,827-6,171-3,464515
Foreign Trade (in % of GDP) 60.964.264.261.860.4

Source: World Trade Organisation (WTO) - 2017; World Bank - 2017


Main Partner Countries

Main Customers
(% of Exports)
China 9.2%
United States 7.4%
Germany 7.1%
Botswana 5.0%
Namibia 4.8%
Japan 4.7%
United Kingdom 4.3%
India 4.3%
Belgium 3.1%
Mozambique 3.1%
Main Suppliers
(% of Imports)
China 18.1%
Germany 11.8%
United States 6.7%
India 4.2%
Saudi Arabia 3.8%
Japan 3.4%
France 3.0%
United Kingdom 2.9%
Thailand 2.9%
Nigeria 2.8%

Source: Comtrade, 2017


Main Products

74.1 bn USD of products exported in 2016
Platinum, incl. palladium, rhodium, iridium, osmium and ruthenium, unwrought or in semi-manufactured forms, or in powder form 8.1%
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) 7.1%
Coal; briquettes, ovoids and similar solid fuels manufactured from coal 5.2%
Iron ores and concentrates, incl. roasted iron pyrites 4.8%
Ferro-alloys 4.7%
Gold, incl. gold plated with platinum, unwrought or not further worked than semi-manufactured or in powder form 4.6%
Motor vehicles for the transport of goods, incl. chassis with engine and cab 3.7%
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 2.7%
Diamonds, whether or not worked, but not mounted or set (excl. unmounted stones for pick-up styluses, worked stones, suitable for use as parts of meters, measuring instruments or other articles of chapter 90) 2.7%
Centrifuges, incl. centrifugal dryers (excl. those for isotope separation); filtering or purifying machinery and apparatus, for liquids or gases; parts thereof (excl. artificial kidneys) 2.2%
74.7 bn USD of products imported in 2016
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 8.7%
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) 4.5%
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 3.4%
Transmission apparatus for radio-telephony, radio-telegraphy, radio-broadcasting or television, whether or not incorporating reception apparatus or sound recording or reproducing apparatus; television cameras; still image video cameras and other video camera recorders; digital cameras 2.7%
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. 2.3%
Medicaments consisting of mixed or unmixed products for therapeutic or prophylactic uses, put up in measured doses incl. those in the form of transdermal administration or in forms or packings for retail sale (excl. goods of heading 3002, 3005 or 3006) 1.9%
Parts and accessories for tractors, motor vehicles for the transport of ten or more persons, motor cars and other motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons, motor vehicles for the transport of goods and special purpose motor vehicles of heading 8701 to 8705, n.e.s. 1.7%
Electrical apparatus for line telephony or line telegraphy, incl. line telephone sets with cordless handsets and telecommunication apparatus for carrier-current line systems or for digital line systems; videophones; parts thereof 1.5%
Powered aircraft e.g. helicopters and aeroplanes; spacecraft, incl. satellites, and suborbital and spacecraft launch vehicles 1.2%
Maize or corn 0.8%

Source: Comtrade, 2017


Main Services

13.4 bn USD of services exported in 2015
Other business services
Government services
Cultural and recreational services
Royalties and license fees
Construction services
13.8 bn USD of services imported in 2015
Other business services
Royalties and license fees
Government services
Cultural and recreational services
Construction services

Source: United Nations Statistics Division, Latest Available Data


Exchange Rate System

Local Currency
South African Rand (ZAR)
Exchange Rate Regime
Independently floating
Level of Currency Instability
Monetary Indicators 20132014201520162017
South African Rand (ZAR) - Average Annual Exchange Rate For 1 USD 9.6610.8512.7614.7113.33

Source: World Bank - Latest available data.


Trade Compliance

International Conventions
Member of World Trade Organisation
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
Main International Economic Cooperation
South Africa is a member of Southern African Customs Union (SACU).

South Africa is a member of Southern African Development Community (SADC).

South Africa has also signed bilateral and multilateral commercial agreements with a number of countries.

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.
Look Up the Other Member Countries And Read the Web Pages of the World Customs Organization Devoted to the ATA Carnet.
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.
The UNCTAD Website Allows You to Read the TIR Convention, See the List of Member Countries And to Find Further Information.
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.
Free Zones
There are 5 Industrial Development Zone (IDZ) in South Africa which offer duty-free import of production-related materials and zero VAT on materials sourced from South Africa: Coega, East London, Richards Bay, Mafikeng, and OR Tambo International Airport near Johannesburg.

An African free trade zone including 12 countries (Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.) has been created in October 2008.
For Further Information
South African Revenue Service
South Africa Ministry of Trade and Industry
South African Reserve Bank (SARB)
South African Department of Foreign Affairs
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 Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Department of Water and Sanitation, 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

Learn more about How to Export to South Africa on, the Directory for International Trade Service Providers.



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)
Medicines Control Council (MCC)
Integration in the International Standards Network
SABS is a member of:
- International Standard Organsation (ISO);
- International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC);
- African Organisation for Standardisation (ARSO).
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)
The Motor Vehicle Security Association of South Africa (VESA)
South African Agricultural Machinery Association(SAAMA)


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Last Updates: May 2018