Trade Profile

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Foreign Trade in Figures

Sri Lanka is relatively open to international trade, which accounts for 47% of GDP (World Bank, latest data available). Nonetheless, its share in GDP has declined almost continuously in the last 20 years after peaking at 88.6% in 2000. The country mainly exports tea (9.6%), women's or girls' slips, petticoats, briefs (5.2%), brassieres, girdles, corsets, braces, suspenders (4.8%), t-shirts, singlets, and other vests, knitted (4.8%), and women's or girls' suits, ensembles, jackets (3.9%), with textiles as a whole being the main commodity group. Its main imports include petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous (19.2%), fabrics, knitted or crocheted (5.7%), medicaments (2.1%), and coal (1.8% - data Comtrade 2022).

Sri Lankan exports are directed mainly towards the United States (25.5%), the United Kingdom (7.4%), India (6.7%), Germany (5.8%), and Italy (5.0%); whereas imports come chiefly from India (26.4%), China (20.0%), United Arab Emirates (5.5%), Malaysia (5.2%), and Singapore (4.2% - data Comtrade 2022). The country’s trade policy aims to strengthen access to Sri Lankan products on the international market. As such, the Government has signed several bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, especially at the regional level. China and Sri Lanka have been negotiating a free trade agreement. However, while China has been pushing to reach a deal, Sri Lanka stated that they want more time to negotiate the agreement, as the Government is concerned about the economic impact of a rushed deal on its economy (Sri Lanka had demanded a review of the deal after 10 years, to which China did not agree). Therefore, negotiations are currently at a stalemate. For a list of FTAs signed by Sri Lanka, click here. Sri Lankan exports have been traditionally less competitive than those of other countries in the region such as Bangladesh and Vietnam due to higher minimum wage rates. Nevertheless, a rapid fall in the value of the Sri Lankan rupee and a minimum wage hike for the workers of the garment industry in Bangladesh and Vietnam helped to level the playing field.

Sri Lanka has a structural trade deficit. In 2022, merchandise imports reached USD 18.3 billion (-11.3% y-o-y), while exports totaled USD 13.1 billion, marking an increase of 4.8% (WTO). With the recovery of the tourism industry, the country became a net service exporter: in 2022, it imported USD 2.8 billion worth of services, against USD 3 billion in exports. According to the World Bank, in the same year, the country’s trade deficit shrank to 3.6% of its GDP, from 7.4% one year earlier. According to figures from the national Export Development Board, in 2023, Sri Lanka's total exports amounted to USD 14.94 billion, comprising merchandise exports (USD 11.85 billion) and estimated service exports (USD 3.08 billion). This represented a marginal decline of 0.39% compared to the previous year's value of USD 14.99 billion. The estimated increase in service exports was approximately 63%. Merchandise exports for the period of January to December 2023 declined by 9.54%, amounting to USD 11,856.3 million compared to the same period in 2022.

 
Foreign Trade Indicators 20192020202120222023
Imports of Goods (million USD) 19,93716,05520,63718,29116,811
Exports of Goods (million USD) 11,94010,04712,49913,10711,911
Imports of Services (million USD) 6,6193,8212,9522,7823,333
Exports of Services (million USD) 7,4743,0352,4753,0624,981
Imports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) -4-204-20n/a
Exports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 2-301010n/a
Trade Balance (million USD) -7,997-6,008-8,139-5,185n/a
Foreign Trade (in % of GDP) 49374147n/a
Imports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 28222425n/a
Exports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 22151721n/a

Source: WTO – World Trade Organisation ; World Bank - Latest available data.

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Main Partner Countries

Main Customers
(% of Exports)
2023
United States 23.2%
United Kingdom 7.1%
India 7.1%
Germany 5.0%
United Arab Emirates 3.2%
See More Countries 54.3%
Main Suppliers
(% of Imports)
2023
India 19.5%
China 18.9%
United Arab Emirates 9.5%
Singapore 5.3%
Malaysia 4.5%
See More Countries 42.2%

Source: Comtrade, Latest Available Data

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Main Products

12.1 bn USD of products exported in 2023
Tea, whether or not flavouredTea, whether or not flavoured 10.7%
Brassieres, girdles, corsets, braces, suspenders,...Brassieres, girdles, corsets, braces, suspenders, garters and similar articles and parts thereof, of all types of textile materials, whether or not elasticated, incl. knitted or crocheted (excl. belts and corselets made entirely of rubber) 4.6%
Women's or girls' slips, petticoats, briefs,...Women's or girls' slips, petticoats, briefs, panties, nightdresses, pyjamas, négligés, bathrobes, dressing gowns, housecoats and similar articles, knitted or crocheted (excl. t-shirts, vests, brassieres, girdles, corsets and similar articles) 4.5%
T-shirts, singlets and other vests, knitted or...T-shirts, singlets and other vests, knitted or crocheted 4.2%
Retreaded or used pneumatic tyres of rubber; solid...Retreaded or used pneumatic tyres of rubber; solid or cushion tyres, tyre treads and tyre flaps, of rubber 3.6%
See More Products 72.3%
16.4 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 14.3%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 5.6%
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) 3.1%
Coal; briquettes, ovoids and similar solid fuels...Coal; briquettes, ovoids and similar solid fuels manufactured from coal 2.9%
Fabrics, knitted or crocheted, of a width of > 30...Fabrics, knitted or crocheted, of a width of > 30 cm (excl. warp knit fabrics "incl. those made on galloon knitting machines", those containing by weight >= 5% of elastomeric yarn or rubber thread, and pile fabrics, incl. "long pile", looped pile fabrics, labels, badges and similar articles, and knitted or crocheted fabrics, impregnated, coated, covered or laminated) 2.6%
See More Products 71.3%

Source: Comtrade, Latest Available Data

 

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

 
 

Main Services

Source: United Nations Statistics Division, Latest Available Data

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Commercial Policy

International Economic Cooperation
Member of the World Trade Organization (WTO)
Member of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). The country have signed a trade agreement with 21 other countries in the São Paulo Round of the Global System of Trade Preferences among Developing Countries (GSTP).
Assessment of Commercial Policy
Sri Lankan Commercial Policy
Barriers to exchanges
Average Customs Duty (Excluding Agricultural Products)
11.01%
 
 

Trade Compliance

International Conventions
Member of the World Trade Organization (WTO)
International Economic Cooperation
Member of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). The country have signed a trade agreement with 21 other countries in the São Paulo Round of the Global System of Trade Preferences among Developing Countries (GSTP).
Useful Resources
Sri Lanka Customs
 
 
 

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Latest Update: May 2024