Malawi flag Malawi: Economic and Political Overview

Foreign trade figures of Malawi

Foreign Trade in Figures

Malawi is relatively open to international trade: 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. Overall, Malawi's economy remains heavily dependent on agriculture, and its exports and imports reflect this reliance on primary and intermediate goods: tobacco accounts for almost half of total exports, as the country is one of the world's largest producers of tobacco. Other major exports include groundnuts, tea, dried vegetables, and agricultural products in general. Imports are led by refined petroleum (16.8% of total imports in 2022), machinery, transport equipment, fertilizers, and medicaments (data Comtrade).

According to the latest data available by Comtrade, the main export destinations of Malawi are Belgium (16%), Tanzania (9.4%), Kenya (6.9%), South Africa (6.4%), Zimbabwe (5.3%), and the United States (5.3%); whereas the top import origins are China (16.5%), the United Arab Emirates (14.0%), South Africa (14.0%), Kuwait (7.4%), India (5.5%), and Japan (3.2% - data 2022).

Malawi’s trade balance is structurally in deficit. In 2022, imports of goods declined to USD 1.5 billion, while the country exported goods for a value of around USD 800 million (-50.5% and -20.7% year-on-year, respectively – data WTO). Concerning services, imports stood at USD 1.3 billion against USD 417 million in exports (data WTO). The trade deficit has been contracting in recent years, a trend that was exacerbated in 2022 as imports collapsed reflecting the impact of foreign exchange shortages. While alleviating the external balance, the unavailability of foreign exchange led to shortages of imported goods (World Bank).

Foreign Trade Values 20192020202120222023
Imports of Goods (million USD) 2,8922,6783,0731,5861,560
Exports of Goods (million USD) 8997711,009900880
Imports of Services (million USD) 4595845911,330n/a
Exports of Services (million USD) 373442462417n/a

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

Foreign Trade Indicators 20172018201920202021
Trade Balance (million USD) -1,577-1,658-1,733-1,797-1,914
Trade Balance (Including Service) (million USD) -1,737-1,819-1,819-1,940-2,043

Source: World Bank ; Latest available data

Foreign Trade Forecasts 20232024 (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 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 15.9%
Tanzania 10.8%
China 5.6%
South Africa 5.4%
Zimbabwe 5.3%
See More Countries 56.9%
Main Suppliers
(% of Imports)
China 17.4%
South Africa 15.6%
United Arab Emirates 12.4%
India 7.0%
Tanzania 6.7%
See More Countries 40.9%

Source: Comtrade, 2024. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.


Main Products

1.0 bn USD of products exported in 2023
Unmanufactured tobacco; tobacco refuseUnmanufactured tobacco; tobacco refuse 46.3%
Tea, whether or not flavouredTea, whether or not flavoured 7.3%
Dried leguminous vegetables, shelled, whether or...Dried leguminous vegetables, shelled, whether or not skinned or split 7.1%
Groundnuts, whether or not shelled or broken (excl...Groundnuts, whether or not shelled or broken (excl. roasted or otherwise cooked) 5.6%
Oilcake and other solid residues, whether or not...Oilcake and other solid residues, whether or not ground or in the form of pellets, resulting from the extraction of soya-bean oil 5.1%
See More Products 28.6%
3.1 bn USD of products imported in 2023
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 18.6%
Mineral or chemical nitrogenous fertilisers (excl....Mineral or chemical nitrogenous fertilisers (excl. those in pellet or similar forms, or in packages with a gross weight of <= 10 kg) 5.5%
Mineral or chemical fertilisers containing two or...Mineral or chemical fertilisers containing two or three of the fertilising elements nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium; other fertilisers (excl. pure animal or vegetable fertilisers or mineral or chemical nitrogenous, phosphatic or potassic fertilisers); animal, vegetable, mineral or chemical fertilisers in tablets or similar forms or in packages of a gross weight of <= 10 kg 4.8%
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 3.5%
Worn clothing and clothing accessories, blankets...Worn clothing and clothing accessories, blankets and travelling rugs, household linen and articles for interior furnishing, of all types of textile materials, incl. all types of footwear and headgear, showing signs of appreciable wear and presented in bulk or in bales, sacks or similar packings (excl. carpets, other floor coverings and tapestries) 3.2%
See More Products 64.4%

Source: Comtrade, 2024. 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

Source: United Nations Statistics Division, 2024. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

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Latest Update: May 2024