In 2019, South Africa exported goods valued at R1, 296 trillion and imported
goods valued at R1,273 trillion, resulting in a positive trade balance of R 22,
6 billion. In 2020, the country’s trade balance improved further with the advent
of the COVID-19 pandemic and the complete lockdown level 5 imposed in April on
the South African economy, which restricted imports than exports. South Africa
exported goods valued at R1, 394 trillion and imported goods valued at R1,123
trillion, resulting in an improved positive trade balance of R 271, 6 billion
South Africa’s top eleven export products in 2020 included natural or cultured pearls and precious or semi-precious stones; Ores, slag and ash; vehicles and accessories; mineral fuels and mineral oils; nuclear reactors; iron and steel; fruit and nuts; aluminium and related articles; miscellaneous chemical products; and electrical machinery and equipment, as well as plastics and related articles..
The country’s top eleven import products included mineral fuels, mineral oils and products of their distillation, bituminous substances, mineral waxes; nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances, parts thereof; electrical machinery and equipment and parts thereof, sound recorders and reproducers, television image and sound recorders and reproducers, and parts and accessories of such articles; original equipment components; vehicles other than railway or tramway rolling stock, and parts and accessories thereof; pharmaceutical products; plastics and articles thereof; optical, photographic, cinematographic, measuring, checking, precision, medical or surgical instruments and apparatus; parts and accessories thereof; miscellaneous chemical products; organic chemicals; and inorganic chemicals; organic or inorganic compounds of precious metals, of rare-earth metals, of radioactive elements or of isotopes.
Alternatively, the top eleven exported product from KZN in 2020 include vehicles other than railway or tramway rolling stock, and parts and accessories thereof; aluminium and articles thereof; ores, slag and ash; miscellaneous chemical products; nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances parts thereof; sugars and sugar confectionery; cereals; iron and steel; paper and paperboard, articles of paper pulp, of paper or of paperboard; mineral fuels, mineral oils and products of their distillation, bituminous substances, mineral waxes; and wood and articles of wood, wood charcoal.
While the top eleven imported products into KZN in 2020 included nuclear reactors, machinery and mechanical appliances; inorganic chemicals, organic or inorganic compounds of precious metals; vehicles and accessories,; cereals; electrical machinery and equipment; plastics and related articles; animal or vegetable fats and oils and their cleavage products, animal or negatable waxes; mineral fuels and mineral oils; miscellaneous chemical products; organic chemical compounds and articles of apparel and clothing accessories, not knitted or crocheted.
With regard to the utilisation of KwaZulu-Natal's two seaports, namely Durban and Richards Bay, Durban harbour is South Africa’s premier multi-cargo port and is considered amongst the busiest in Africa, handling in excess of 80 million tonnes of cargo per annum. The Port of Durban is the leading seaport in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and the premier trade gateway between South Africa the Far East, Europe and the USA, as well as both East and West Africa. This is a focal point in the transport and logistics chain, with 60% of all imports and exports passing through the port and it, thus, assumes a leading role in facilitating economic growth in South Africa. In 2021 cargo which passed through the Port of Durban for the months through July 2020 to June 2021 was valued at roughly R3.4 million metric tons.
The Port of Richards Bay is located approximately 160 km North-East of Durban and 465 km South of Maputo, on the eastern seaboard of South Africa. The combination of specialised cargo handling facilities, rapid vessel turn-around times, deep-water infrastructure, excellent rail links to the hinterland and large 'Greenfield' development potential, has made the Port of Richards Bay one of the world’s leading bulk ports, handling well in excess of 80 million tonnes annually, representing approximately 60% of South Africa’s seaborne cargo. In 2021 cargo which passed through the Port of Richards Bay for the months through July 2020 to June 2021 valued at 7,1 million metric tons. While the Port of Richard’s Bay moves the bulk of the province’s cargo, the Port of Durban manages the bulk of the province’s containers. After experiencing a deficit of 162 (containers) in December 2020 due to moving more empty containers compared to full containers, the Port of Richard’s Bay increased its movement of containers to 329 in January 2021 but there was minimal improvement in movement thereafter. In the period between July 2020 and June 2021, the Durban port managed its highest number of containers (259 118) in June 2021 compared to the other months in the same time period.
South Africa is considered as having the world's 38th biggest export economy. Leading export destinations are China, United States of America Germany, United Kingdom, China, Netherlands, India, Japan and Botswana. Its top import sources include China, Germany, the United States of America, India, Nigeria and India and Saudi Arabia.