Trade data for January-December 2017

January 11, 2018

Bottom line:  The deficit on trade in goods for 2017 widened significantly compared to 2016 — which had jumped sharply — after having narrowed in the first half of the year. Once again, the primary driver was higher fuel prices, which alone accounted for 60% of the total year-on-year increase. Vehicle imports, on the other hand, dropped. Overall import growth was low, but still exceeded export growth. Exports were held back by weakness in electronics, although some other sectors scored strong gains.

Specifics:

  • The overall trade deficit (before seasonal adjustment) for 2017 was $15bn., a rise of 16.5% over the $12.9bn deficit in 2016.
  • Both total imports and total exports posted small increases, of 4.5% and 1.6% respectively.
  • The continued recovery in fuel prices was the key factor in the higher import bill, contributing $1.8bn of the total $3bn annual increase.
  • Core imports, i.e. those excluding ships, aircraft and diamonds, were 19.4% higher than in 2016 — because of a 12% fall in raw diamond imports. If fuel imports are also excluded, the annual rise was only 11%. However, by any comparative measurement, imports rose faster than exports.
  • Annual imports of passenger cars dropped sharply — by 22% for households and by 25% for businesses. However, the decline was concentrated in the first months of the year, after which car imports began to rise again.
  • Imports of trucks, pick-ups and buses rose 6% setting yet another record.
  • Imports of machinery and equipment rose 12%, so that overall imports of investment goods were up by 3% in 2017. Consumer goods imports were constrained to a rise of 2.5% because of the sharp drop in car purchases.
  • Total exports, excluding diamonds, ships and aircraft, rose by 2.6%, more than the 1.5% of overall exports — because diamond exports slumped 17.4%.
  • Manufacturing exports rose 3.4%. However, this rise was almost entirely due to the 10% increase in exports from sectors classified as medium-high technology — notably a 13% recovery in chemicals’ exports. The medical and dental instruments sector continued its steady growth, rising 7% to cross the $1.5bn mark.
  • Exports from the high-technology sectors were almost unchanged: the strong (18.5%) gain in the air and spacecraft sector, as well as the 9% rise in pharma sales, were offset by an 8.4% drop in the critical electronics sector.

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