Namibia still imports most of what it consumes

Two weeks ago we released our first quarter trade statistics. The trade statistics are a set of information or data that tells us what our country imports and exports.

Trade statistics play an important part in the economy of any country and Namibia is no exception. Some important aspects of trade data include the overall trade flow, trade balance, key export and import markets, as well as the modes of transport used to trade these goods.

Customs is our primary source of trade data and this trade data is collected from more than 30 border posts across the whole country. All transactions are declared upon entry and exit and everything that adds or is subtracted to the stock of materials in Namibia is accounted for.

Looking at the history of our first quarter trade data shows us that Namibia has generally been running a trade deficit for quite some time. What this means is that we import more than what we export. In the past ten years, our first quarter trade statistics shows us that we have only managed to run a trade surplus in the first quarter of the years 2006, 2007 and 2009. For the remainder of the years, until today, we have run a trade deficit and it is only becoming bigger.

Our current trade deficit stands at N$5.84 billion. Although this is a significant decline from the N$7.56 billion recorded in the first quarter of 2014 it is still much higher than the N$1.5 billion recorded in the first quarter of 2010, as well as the N$3.3 billion recorded in the year 2013.

This, of course, is a far cry from the trade surplus of N$973 million, N$1 billion and N$763 million recorded in 2006, 2007 and 2009 respectively. Of course one would be interested to understand what products Namibia imported and exported during the first quarter. In terms of value, Namibia’s main imports are vehicles, machinery and mechanical appliances, ores and commodities, as well as electrical machinery and equipment and precious stones.

These precious stones refer to diamonds. Most of our goods have been imported from South Africa, China, Switzerland, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo during that period.

Diamonds, fish, copper, ores and beverages largely dominated our exports during the first quarter of this year. Our major export markets are Botswana, South Africa, Switzerland, Angola and the Economic Processing Zone area.

Botswana tops this list, because our diamonds are exported to that country. In terms of transport, most of our products are exported by sea, road and air. On the import aspect, our products are imported through road, sea and then by air. Rail transport lags behind these.

In a nutshell, what does this tell us? Looking at the commodities that we export and the commodities that we import it becomes clear that our economy is still generally one that exports raw materials and imports finished goods from abroad.

Although not highlighted here, Namibia also imports most of its food from outside the country. The more we import the more we remain dependent on those that provide these goods. It also means that if anything happens in those countries then we have quite a challenge on our hands.

If we are serious about economic development and employment-creation then there is an urgent need to start producing more of the items we consume at home. Of course it comes with its own challenges. However, in the long run it is healthier for an economy to be exporting more finished goods than to only be importing them.