Sierra Leone has an open economy in which trade accounts for around 58% of the country’s GDP (World Bank, 2021). The country's trade policy is a part of global strategy to reduce poverty and is in compliance with its commitment to ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States). Customs duties are relatively high in Sierra Leone. Despite having few trade barriers, the country has very few bilateral investment agreements. A more restrictive trade regime was put in place in 2017 with selective tariffs on imports and the launch of the "Made in Sierra Leone" (BAD) initiative. The factors favoring foreign trade are the rapid expansion of the telecommunications sector, unrestricted conversion or transfer of foreign investment funds, and the absence of legal restrictions on obtaining foreign exchange. Sierra Leone mainly exports minerals (titanium, iron, aluminium, etc.), wood, precious stones (diamonds), cocoa, fats, machinery and fish. Cereals and other food products, machinery, vehicles, mineral fuel, plastics and pharmaceutical products account for the bulk of the country's imports (ITC, 2021).
The top destinations for goods exports are China (18.3% of total exports), Korea (14%), the Netherlands (13.5%), Somalia (10.8%), Ghana (8%), Romania (7.8%) and Germany (5.3%). The main partners for imports of goods are China (20.1% of total imports), the United Arab Emirates (8.4%), Belgium (7.5%), India (7.2%), the United States (5.4%) and Turkey (5.2%) (ITC, 2021). Sierra Leone’s trade was severely impacted by the Ebola outbreak, lower prices for iron ore, the closure of the country's largest iron mine (the Tonkolili facility), the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. However, the ramp-up of production at the Tonkolili and Marampa sites, and the opening of the country's first cocoa processing plant in November 2021 are expected to boost exports.
Sierra Leone’s trade balance is structurally in deficit and this trend is expected to continue considering the country’s fledgling industry and lack of agricultural productivity. In 2021 Sierra Leone exported USD 697 million in goods and imported USD 1.8 billion. In 2021, services exports fell to USD 49 million, while imports reached USD 197 million (WTO). The trade deficit reached USD 716.8 million in 2020, a decrease compared to 2019 (USD 758 million) (World Bank, latest data available). Trade deficit is expected to shrink thanks to the recovery in exports, but it will remain substantial due to the country’s dependence on imports (Coface).
|Foreign Trade Indicators||2017||2018||2019||2020||2021|
|Imports of Goods (million USD)||1,301||1,354||1,576||1,257||1,803|
|Exports of Goods (million USD)||567||554||619||368||697|
|Imports of Services (million USD)||420||370||404||0||205|
|Exports of Services (million USD)||145||92||64||0||49|
|Imports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change)||6||-12||-7||7||47|
|Exports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change)||23||-35||-2||-10||2|
|Trade Balance (million USD)||-437||-325||-403||-573||n/a|
|Foreign Trade (in % of GDP)||74||57||56||52||58|
|Imports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP)||48||39||38||36||41|
|Exports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP)||26||17||18||15||17|
Source: WTO – World Trade Organisation ; World Bank - Latest available data.
(% of Exports)
|See More Countries||35.4%|
(% of Imports)
|United Arab Emirates||8.4%|
|See More Countries||51.4%|
Source: Comtrade, Latest Available Data
To go further, check out our service Import Export Flows
|0.1 bn USD of services exported in 2018|
|Personal travelPersonal travel||17.65%|
|Business travelBusiness travel||15.67%|
|0.4 bn USD of services imported in 2018|
|Personal travelPersonal travel||11.76%|
|Business travelBusiness travel||1.63%|
Source: United Nations Statistics Division, Latest Available Data
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Latest Update: September 2023