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Australia’s Top 10 Imports and Exports: Where Does Your Industry Sit?

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Australia’s Top 10 Imports and Exports: Where Does Your Industry Sit?

International trade is integral to Australia’s economy and especially to the shipping and logistics industry.  Australia enjoys the benefits of numerous free trade agreements with other countries whilst importing and exporting several goods ranging from machinery and minerals to meat and aluminium. In this article, we’ll explore Australia’s top imports and exports, especially looking at some of the industries that make up Australia’s international trade as well as who are the most important partners and players.

Australia’s Top Ten Imports

  1. Mineral fuels (including oil) (AUD$46.1 billion)
  2. Machinery including computers (US$39.3 billion)
  3. Vehicles (US$35.7 billion)
  4. Electrical machinery and equipment (US$29.5 billion)
  5. Pharmaceuticals (US$13 billion)
  6. Optical, technical, medical apparatus (US$9.4 billion)
  7. Gems and precious metals (US$8.1 billion)
  8. Plastics and plastic articles US$7.7 billion)
  9. Iron or steel articles (US$6.4 billion)
  10. Furniture, bedding and lighting freight (US$5.7 billion)

While Australia has traditionally been an export nation, we have relied especially heavily on imports in recent years. In 2022, Australia imported around US $289.4 billion worth of goods, approximately a 27.1% increase from 2018.

Below we’ve put together a list of imports during 2022 ranked one to ten based on dollar value. We have also provided the percentage amount to demonstrate how much the commodity and/or product represents that of Australian imports.

Below we’ve put together a list of imports during 2022 ranked one to ten based on dollar value. We have also provided the percentage amount to demonstrate how much the commodity and/or product represents that of Australian imports.

#1 Mineral fuels (including oil) (AUD$46.1 billion)

Representing about 15.9% of Australian imports, mineral fuels formed Australia’s largest import in 2022. This primarily included processed petroleum oils, crude oil, petroleum oil residues and petroleum gases.

In early 2022, the Australia Institute released a report suggesting that Australia was 91% reliant on foreign oil. It also found that transport consumes 73% of the country’s liquid fuel, with more than half being consumed by road transport.

#2 Machinery including computers (US$39.3 billion)

Machinery. Including computers, represent around 13.6% of Australian imports.

This is not surprising given the investment in infrastructure and construction around Australia. Australians import everything ranging from computers and heavy machinery to centrifugal pumps. Many are essentially ‘capital’ goods that help Australians make other goods.

#3 Vehicles (US$35.7 billion)

Vehicles account for 12.4% of Australia’s imports. In 2022, this included the importation of cars, trucks, automobile parts, tractors, trailers, motorcycles and more. Cars alone accounted for US $19.2 billion in imports, which was up 9.3% from 2021.

Interestingly, the importation of public transport vehicles, tractors and bicycles grew at the fastest pace between 2021 and 2022.

#4 Electrical machinery and equipment (US$29.5 billion)

Australians love using electrical equipment – so it contributed around 10.2% of Australia’s imports in 2022.

By far, the number one electrical piece of equipment forming the bulk of Australian imports were mobile phones, including smartphones. This alone accounted for about US$8.8 billion in Australian imports. The import of electric motors or generals also increased significantly by 20.1%, as did electric storage batteries, increasing by just over 29%.

#5 Pharmaceuticals (US$13 billion)

Pharmaceuticals account for about 4.5% of Australian imports. The importation of items such as medicines and medical devices is heavily regulated, and many pharmaceuticals are prohibited from entering into Australian borders by the Department of Health and the Australian Border Force.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a surge in the importation of the COVID-19 vaccine, including Pfizer and AstraZeneca. Vaccines for COVID-19 spurred a 745% increase by value in imports of vaccines for human medicine from 2019-20 to 2021-22.

#6 Optical, technical, medical apparatus (US$9.4 billion)

Optical, technical and medical equipment account for around 3.3% of Australian imports. This includes goods like electro-medical equipment such as x-rays and blood fractions.

#7 Gems and precious metals (US$8.1 billion)

Representing around 2.8% of Australian imports, gems and precious stones are at #7 on the list. Australians love their jewellery and this plays a critically important role in international trade. The new agreement between India and Australia, concluded  in December 2022, is expected to skyrocket bilateral gem and jewellery trade up to US $2 billion (from US $1.3 billion).

Note that from 30 September 2022, Australia has prohibited the import and purchase of gold from Russia in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

#8 Plastics and plastic articles US$7.7 billion)

Plastic is a large international business, and it accounted for about 2.7% of Australian imports in 2022.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the import of other plastics skyrocketed up to $2.1 billion in 2022. In February 2022, it was reported that the pandemic had generated ‘millions of tonnes of plastic waste’, especially due to products such as disposable face masks and gloves.

#9 Iron or steel articles (US$6.4 billion)

Coming in at number nine are iron and steel articles, accounting for around 2.2 per cent of Australian imports in 2022.  In 2021, it was reported that approximately one-third of Australia’s steel needs were imported. The price of steel doubled since the beginning of the pandemic.

#10 Furniture, bedding and lighting freight (US$5.7 billion)

Last but not least, Australians continue to invest in home furnishings, explaining why the importation of furniture, bedding and lighting accounted for 2% of all imports. International Cargo Express often works with lighting and furniture freight into Australia.

In Summary

Australia’s Top Ten Exports

  1. Mineral fuels (US$158.7 billion)
  2. Ores, slag and ash (US$102.6 billion)
  3. Gems and precious metals (US $19.4 billion)
  4. Cereals (US $13.8 billion)
  5. Meat (US $12 billion)
  6. Salt, sulphur, stone, cement (US $8.5 billion)
  7. Inorganic chemicals (US $1.8 billion)
  8. Oil seeds (US $6.1 billion)
  9. Aluminium (US $5.1 billion)
  10. Optical and medical equipment (AUD$4.6 billion)

Australia is largely an export nation gaining the most GDP growth from overseas trade. In 2022, the country exported around US$401.1 billion worth of goods internationally, which was a gain of about 16.1% from 2021.

Below is a list of Australia’s top ten exports. As you’ll see, goods like coal and iron ore are some of the most valuable products that we ship overseas.

#1 Mineral fuels (US$158.7 billion)

Australia is seeing increasing growth in the international trade of petroleum gas and coal, with mineral fuels forming 39.6% of total Australian exports. This was up by 70.1% since 2021.

Whilst Australia produces a significant amount of oil, we export a large portion of refined petroleum to countries such as Singapore ($241 million in 2021), Japan ($175 million in 2021) and Malaysia ($81.3 million in 2021).  Some of the main players in the export of mineral fuels include Woodside Petroleum and Santos (oil and gas).

#2 Ores, slag and ash (US$102.6 billion)

Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of coal, iron ore, lead and diamonds, with ores, slag and ash forming around 25.6% of Australian exports. As reported by the Minerals Council of Australia, exports in iron ore surged by 20 per cent in 2021.

The export is integral to Australia’s industry and played an especially important role during the mining boom in the 2000s and early 2010s. The Minerals Council suggested that the boom in exports of minerals and metals was crucial for the country’s pandemic recovery.

#3 Gems and precious metals (US $19.4 billion)

Whilst Australians love their jewellery, our exports of gems and precious metals far outweigh those that we import. In fact, precious metal exports account for around 4.8% of all Australian exports. To secure the safe and timely transport of these valuable commodities, exporters depend on specialised freight services.

Australia’s landscape is rich in precious minerals, and industry has taken full advantage. We’re the largest producer of opals and diamonds, and a major supplier of jewels like topaz, emerald, ruby, jade and sapphire.

#4 Cereals (US $13.8 billion)

Whilst we love our Weet Bix and Fruit Loops, cereal is a top export of Australia accounting for 3.4% of all exports. It was expected that Australia would account for a record 13.7% of global wheat exports in 2022-23 (a mere increase of one percentage point from 2021-22).

The grain industry in Western Australia plays an important part in this, as it’s the largest agricultural sector in the whole State. Wheat is the main crop, but the industry also produces barley, oats, canola and lupins.

#5 Meat (US $12 billion)

Meat is a huge industry in Australia, valued at around US $12 billion in exports. Australia has a rich history of exporting grass-fed beef, lamb button as well as live cattle and sheep.

According to Meat and Livestock Australia, red meat exports were strong in 2022. While supply was smaller, there was high demand for beef, resulting in rising prices of AUD $12.07 per kilogram in June 2022. By contrast, lamb exports increased up 7% from 2021 to 284,257 tonnes – which is the largest figure for exports on record.  

#6 Salt, sulphur, stone, cement (US $8.5 billion)

The commodities of salt, sulphur, stone and cement were the fastest growing exports among all of the top 10 export categories in 2022, dramatically escalating by 458.3% in 2021. It accounted for 2.1% of Australia’s exports.

#7 Inorganic chemicals (US $1.8 billion)

Australia’s chemical industry has expanded significantly in recent years, now accounting for around 1.8% of Australian exports.

#8 Oil seeds (US $6.1 billion)

The export of oil seeds rose considerably by 98.1% in 2022, making the list of top 10 exports. Europe has been the primary destination for Aussie oil seeds, which is becoming used more and more in biofuel production. It accounted for 1.5% of Australia’s exports.

Some of the main players in the export of oil seeds include Cargill, Glencore, GrainCorp and Riordan Grain.

#9 Aluminium (US $5.1 billion)

Aluminium represents around 1.3% of Australian exports.

In March 2022, Australia banned the export of alumina and aluminium ores, such as bauxite, to Russia in light of the conflict in Ukraine. This was done to reduce Russia’s ability to make aluminium (a key Russian export, and used to manufacture weapons). It was a significant move, given that Russia relies on Australia for 20% of its alumina requirements.

#10 Optical and medical equipment (AUD$4.6 billion)

Accounting for around 1.2% of Australian exports, machinery also makes the list. This not only includes computers but, interestingly, aircraft parts which we largely export to the United States.  However, Australia experienced a considerable trade deficit in machinery in 2022, especially for turbo-jets.

In Summary

Australia’s Top Trading Countries for Imports and Exports

  1. China
  2. Japan
  3. South Korea
  4. India
  5. United States

Australia is an important player in the international trade of goods and services as we have traded with dozens of overseas countries throughout the centuries.

Below you’ll see a list of our five most important trading countries, calculated by those countries that imported the most Australian shipments by dollar value during the year 2018.

#1 China

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Coming in as no surprise at number one is China, who has consistently and by far been our most important trading partner for many years. Importing nearly US $103.9 billion worth of Aussie goods in 2022, they account for around 25.9% of all our exports.

Australia’s economy largely relies on China. A report from PriceWaterCoopers released in August 2019 called China Matters said that if China’s economic relationship with Australia waded, it could cost Australia half a million jobs and around $140 billion.

Before and throughout the pandemic, demand for iron ore from China was high. Australia supplied nearly 74% of the country’s iron ore in 2018-2019 (a figure which has doubled in a decade). China further relies on Australian coal and uranium for its lighting and its own economy, predominantly manufacturing.

Over the past few years, the relationship took a turn – with the two countries becoming embroiled in a trade war. China banned a large range of major Australian exports, from barley and wine to coal and lobsters. The result was a AUD $24 billion hit to our economy.

However, the trade war is expected to come to an end shortly – with China’s trade offensive causing coal shortages, blackouts and one of their most bitter winters on record.

#2 Japan

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Coming in at second place is Japan, which imported around USD $49 billion worth of Australian exports in 2022 (around 12.2% of Australian exports). Japan is vital to Australia’s economic and strategic interests and has been a close major trading partner since after the Second World War with the ratification of the 1957 Commence Agreement.

Japan relies on Australia for its minerals, food and energy, whilst it is also one of the most important sources of investment for the Australian economy. In 2017, we exported nearly 14.9% of all our goods to Japan and largely sent over coal, LNG, iron ore, beef and copper ores. Simultaneously, Australia largely relies on Japan for goods such as passenger vehicles, gold and refined petroleum.

The Australia-Japan economic relationship grew closer with the signing of the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (JAEPA), which came into effect on 15 January 2015. This allows for Australian exporters to access a greater share of the Japanese market and unlocks further opportunities for trade and investment into the future.

#3 South Korea

south-korea-Gyeongbokgung-1024x712

The economies of Australia and South Korea are closely interdependent, with South Korea importing nearly USD $24.1 billion worth of goods from Australia (around 6% of exports). Australia provides South Korea with a large amount of food, raw materials and manufactured goods. South Korea at the same time provides Australia with cars, computers and other machinery.

Trade and investment has been boosted by the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement (KAFTA), a comprehensive free trade agreement signed in 2014 that has allowed for the removals of tariffs and greater access into the South Korean market for Australian business.

Recently, there has been a considerable demand for Australian hydrogen in South Korea, with the East Asian country hoping to rely completely on renewable energy by 2050.

#4 India

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India is the world’s fifth-largest economy and our fourth-largest trading partner, importing over $14.8 billion worth of Australian goods in 2022. India’s focus has largely been an investment in infrastructure with the construction of new highways, cities, railways, airports and water projects. It, therefore, continues to rely on Australian agriculture, education, tourism, energy and financial services.

Australia and India signed the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement  (ECTA), which came into effect on 29 December 2022. Australia also  implemented its India Economic Strategy to 2035, which recognises the importance of the Australian economy to India’s growth.

The strategy recommends important courses of action such as increased direct air services between the two countries, the creation of an Australian consortium of universities to include India’s proposed technology institutes and the establishment of an Australia-India Infrastructure Council.

#5 United States

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The United States is also integral to Australia’s economic growth, with the U.S importing nearly $13.7 billion worth of Aussie imports in 2022 (accounting for about 3.4% of Australian exports). The U.S. is Australia’s most important investor, representing 24.1% of Australia’s foreign investment as of the end of 2022.

Our economic relationship is founded on the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA). Since this agreement came into effect in January 2005, 96.1% of all Australian exports to the U.S. have become tariff-free. In 2020 (fifteen years since the agreement was signed), goods and services trade between the U.S. and Australia had doubled.

Are You Importing or Exporting?

We at ICE can help you take advantage of the free trade agreements Australia has to offer and the other numerous opportunities in overseas markets.

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