Malawi flag Malawi: Economic and Political Overview

Foreign trade figures of Malawi

Foreign Trade in Figures

Malawi is relatively open to international trade, which represents 66.6% of the country’s GDP (World Bank). The country is a member of the WTO and has bilateral trade agreements with two of its main trade partners, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Malawi is also a beneficiary of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a U.S. trade preference program. As part of its trade policy, the country has been gradually reducing protections granted to domestic trade by shifting its sources of revenue from customs duties to consumption and direct taxes. The average applied tariff rate is 4.2%. Malawi mainly exports raw tobacco (52.5% of total exports), sugar, tea, leguminous, nuts and machinery. Imports are led by refined petroleum (7.2% of total imports), fertilizers, medicines, tobacco and vehicles.

The main export destinations of Malawi in 2020 were Belgium, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Kenya, the United States, Zimbabwe, China and Tanzania. The top import origins were South Africa, China, the United Arab Emirates, India, the United Kingdom and Zambia. (Comtrade).

Malawi’s trade balance is structurally in deficit. In 2019, trade deficit (including services) reached USD 2.03 billion. In 2020, imports of goods reached USD 2.82 billion, while the country exported goods for a value of USD 767 million. The export of services generated USD 162 million while the import of services bill amounted to USD 275 million (WTO). In 2022, the trade deficit is expected to narrow only marginally, as increased agricultural exports will be partly offset by rising imports and the depreciation of the Malawian kwacha (Coface).

Foreign Trade Values 20162017201820192020
Imports of Goods (million USD) 2,4252,5472,7062,9412,820
Exports of Goods (million USD) 1,017884880913767
Imports of Services (million USD) 245301302337275
Exports of Services (million USD) 94130160175162

Source: World Trade Organisation (WTO) ; Latest available data

Foreign Trade Indicators 20152016201720182019
Trade Balance (million USD) -1,066-1,090-1,577-1,658-1,857
Trade Balance (Including Service) (million USD) -1,243-1,225-1,728-1,812-2,033

Source: World Bank ; Latest available data

Foreign Trade Forecasts 20212022 (e)2023 (e)2024 (e)2025 (e)
Volume of exports of goods and services (Annual % change)
Volume of imports of goods and services (Annual % change) -4.41.6-

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook ; Latest available data

Note: (e) Estimated Data

International Economic Cooperation
Malawi trade memberships:

WTO since 1995
• Cotonou Agreement
• Southern African Development Community (SADC)
Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
• African Growth and Opportunity Act beneficiary country
• Malawi signed a bilateral trade agreement with South Africa, under which a number of export products may enter the South African market at reduced rates of import duty
• Malawi signed a preferential trade agreement with Mozambique with the intention that Malawi export products to the neighbouring country are duty-free.


Main Partner Countries

Main Customers
(% of Exports)
Belgium 20.8%
South Africa 6.2%
United Kingdom 6.0%
Kenya 5.1%
United States 4.6%
See More Countries 57.3%
Main Suppliers
(% of Imports)
South Africa 20.6%
China 16.2%
United Arab Emirates 10.1%
India 7.7%
United Kingdom 4.6%
See More Countries 40.9%

Source: Comtrade, 2022. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.


Main Products

0.8 bn USD of products exported in 2020
Unmanufactured tobacco; tobacco refuseUnmanufactured tobacco; tobacco refuse 52.5%
Cane or beet sugar and chemically pure sucrose, in...Cane or beet sugar and chemically pure sucrose, in solid form 9.7%
Tea, whether or not flavouredTea, whether or not flavoured 9.5%
Dried leguminous vegetables, shelled, whether or...Dried leguminous vegetables, shelled, whether or not skinned or split 5.1%
Ground-nuts, whether or not shelled or broken ...Ground-nuts, whether or not shelled or broken (excl. roasted or otherwise cooked) 5.1%
See More Products 18.0%
2.7 bn USD of products imported in 2020
Unused postage, revenue or similar stamps of...Unused postage, revenue or similar stamps of current or new issue in the country in which they have, or will have, a recognised face value; stamp-impressed paper; banknotes; cheque forms; stock, share or bond certificates and similar documents of title 9.1%
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 7.2%
Mineral or chemical fertilizers containing two or...Mineral or chemical fertilizers containing two or three of the fertilizing elements nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium; other fertilizers (excl. pure animal or vegetable fertilizers or mineral or chemical nitrogenous, phosphatic or potassic fertilizers); animal, vegetable, mineral or chemical fertilizers in tablets or similar forms or in packages of a gross weight of <= 10 kg 4.3%
Medicaments consisting of mixed or unmixed...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) 4.2%
Mineral or chemical nitrogenous fertilizers (excl....Mineral or chemical nitrogenous fertilizers (excl. those in pellet or similar forms, or in packages with a gross weight of <= 10 kg) 4.0%
See More Products 71.1%

Source: Comtrade, 2022. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.


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


Main Services

0.2 bn USD of services exported in 2018
0.3 bn USD of services imported in 2018

Source: United Nations Statistics Division, 2021. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

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Latest Update: July 2022

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