Exports rise most in 2 years in 2019 on surge in gold shipments

Uganda’s export growth rose to a two-year high last year as a surge in gold shipments helped shake off the effects of a border crisis with Rwanda, preliminary data show.

Goods exports grew 11.9% to $4 billion (Shs14.9 trillion) in 2019, up from the 5.6% growth a year earlier, according to figures from the central bank. Merchandise imports, on the other hand, rose 11.7% last year.

A 144.3% surge in gold exports to $1.2bn, the highest on record, drove the growth in outbound shipments, with the commodity’s share of total exports rising to 30.9% from 14.1% in 2018. Cotton exports were up 31.3% to $58.2m while cocoa beans shipments rose 19.9% to $77.5m.

Coffee exports increased by 0.5% to $438.5m, as their proportion of total exports declined to 10.8% from 12% a year earlier. Non-coffee formal exports rose 17.8%, driven by the growth in gold shipments. But declines were recorded for beans, down 63.9% to $35.7m, and maize which fell 26.9% to $78m.

Informal cross-border trade (ICBT) exports declined by 7.4% to $511.2m in 2019, mainly due to a fall in industrial products and beans. Industrial products were down 10% while beans fell 37.8%. ICBT exports as a share of total exports also declined to 12.5% from 15.2% in 2018.

By nation and region, export growth was boosted by a 111.9% increase in exports to the United Arab Emirates, which came in at $1.2 billion; most of the gold exported from Uganda goes to the Middle Eastern country. Exports to the United Arab Emirates represented 29.3% of Uganda’s total goods exports in 2019, up from 15.5% a year earlier.

Merchandise exports to Turkey in 2019 rose by $106.2m to $126.9m. There was also a 166% growth in exports to Italy, which came in at $142.8m. Formal exports to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is part of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) trading bloc, rose 21.9% to $249.1m. In addition, informal trade exports to the Democratic Republic of Congo exceeded formal exports, rising 11% to $318.8m.

Chart showing Uganda's top 10 export trading partners in 2019 and 2018

The biggest decline was recorded for formal exports to Rwanda, which fell 80.2% in 2019 — $170.2m in monetary terms — to $41.9m. Formal exports to Kenya were also down 23.7%, or $137.6m, to $442.7m. Overall, formal exports to the Comesa trading bloc decreased by 16.2% to $1.2bn, while their share of total exports fell to 30.2% from 40.3% in 2018.

Import growth slows in 2019

In 2019, Uganda’s merchandise imports increased by 11.7% from the previous year to $6.8bn (Shs25 trillion), slower than the 18.1% growth in the previous year.

The growth in imports was boosted by a 16.3% rise in formal private sector imports to $6.1bn, the result of a $915.6m increase in non-oil imports. Oil imports fell 5.1% to $956.6m, a reduction of $51m in monetary terms. Government imports were up 0.4%, driven by an increase of $69.7m in non-project imports to $73.2m while project imports declined by 11.8% to $505.1m.

Imports of mineral products excluding petroleum products increased by $831.8m in 2019 to $1.2bn and drove the growth in formal private sector imports. Textiles and textile products rose 14.1% to $243.5m and prepared foodstuffs, beverages and tobacco imports were up 14% to $218.4m. Machinery equipment, vehicles and accessories increased to $1.2bn, rising 1.8%.

Imports from Kenya and Tanzania contributed the most to the growth in inbound shipments in 2019. Goods imports from Kenya rose 39.8% to $781.8m, which was 11.5% of Uganda’s total imports in 2019. Imports from Tanzania were up 58.9% to $452.6m.

Chart showing Uganda's top 10 import trading partners in 2019 and 2018

Asia was the largest source of Uganda’s goods imports in 2019 with a share of 40%, down from 41.8% a year ago. Imports from India rose 16.8% to $868.4m, which translates to a share of 12.7%. China, the single largest source of imports to Uganda in 2019 with a share of 15%, registered import growth of 0.9% to $1bn.

The figures also show a 32.3% reduction in imports from Saudi Arabia to $336.2m. Overall, the Middle East accounted for 15% of Uganda’s goods imports in 2019, down from 19.7% a year ago; most of these were just from two countries, however — the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.