A well-kept secret: Tanzania’s export performance


This page in:

Let's think together: Every Sunday the World Bank in Tanzania in collaboration with The Citizen wants to stimulate your thinking by sharing data from recent official surveys in Tanzania and ask you a few questions.

Outward looking strategies have been used by most countries that have succeeded in their transition toward emergence. East Asian tigers and dragons have witnessed a tremendous and sustained boom in their exports, as have emerging countries like Chile, Tunisia, Botswana, and Mauritius. Even fast-growing ‘big’ countries such as Brazil and China have relied on world markets.

What might surprise some though is that Tanzania’s export performance in fact exceeded that of Brazil, Tunisia, Mauritius, Malaysia, Korea, and Thailand between 2000 and 2012. Among countries that did better were China and Uganda.

Tanzania's total merchandise export grew five-fold reaching US$5.2 billion in 2012. This rapid growth has been driven by:

- Higher prices for Tanzanian’s products on world markets, accounting respectively for two-thirds of the increase in traditional agricultural products (coffee, tobacco, sisal, etc.).
- The emergence of gold – rising from US$383 million in 2002 to over US$2 billion in 2012.
- Higher manufacturing exports – growing from seven per cent of total merchandise exports in 2002 to 20 per cent in 2012, albeit with a peak of 26 per cent in 2010.
- Diversification of markets away from EU (down from approximately 50 to 30 per cent of total exports) toward Asia (i.e. up from 23 per cent to almost 30 per cent) and, above all,  African countries (up from approximately less than 10 per cent to over 30 per cent) between 2000 and 2011.

The fast expansion of Tanzania’s exports is good news for those who believe in outward-looking strategies for sustainable economic development. Local firms are able to complement the limited domestic demand by selling their goods to consumers abroad. In the process, they get to learn new things from their foreign supply and marketing networks.

Foreign competition can also generate a healthy dynamism because exporting firms have to adjust to survive.

However, Tanzania’s export performance also needs to be qualified on three counts. First, the rapid annual growth rate of 15 per cent observed between 2000 and 2012 has come from a very low starting point (the share of goods and services exports in the GDP was only around 13 per cent in Tanzania against over 60 per cent in Malaysia, Thailand, and Mauritius).

Secondly, exports remain concentrated as gold now counts for over 40 percent of total merchandise exports. As a result, a sudden drop in world gold prices by 30 per cent would reduce Tanzania’s total merchandise exports by almost 15 per cent – a serious impact.

Finally, the vast majority of merchandise exports are low value-added products such as minerals and unprocessed agriculture goods which have minimal direct impacts on jobs and technology development in the domestic economy.

These figures raise a number of questions at the core of the theories on using exports as a driver of growth in Tanzania:

- Should the promotion of exports be a national priority for Tanzania?
- How can Tanzania further promote expansion of its export sector? Should specific products or markets be targeted?
- What are the most critical barriers to exporting by local firms?
- What are the risks associated with an outward-looking strategy?

Source: The World Bank's World Development Indicators and Bank of Tanzania’s statistics. All are publicly available.


Jacques Morisset

Lead Economist and Program Leader for Cote d’Ivoire

Jacques Morisset

Lead Economist and Program Leader for Cote d’Ivoire

Join the Conversation

March 04, 2013

The fast growth of Tanzania’s exports is great information for those who believe in outward-looking techniques for maintainable financial growth. Local companies are able to supplement the restricted household need by promoting their products to customers overseas

Andrea Ruiz
March 04, 2013

Though most of Tanzanians exports are not value added products, such a surge in absolute export amounts generate revenue that should be taken advantage out to promote other sectors. Funds of this nature might have otherwise been hard to come by. Now is the time to set up commercial offices, invest in research and development, and engage in marketing to develop a global brand. Tanzania's boom should not be a high point rather, it should be a stepping stone into the global market place of value added goods.

March 05, 2013

How can Tanzania further promote expansion of its export sector? Should specific products or markets be targeted?

Paul Makanza
September 24, 2014

Interesting facts on Tanzania's exports. Certainly an interesting question too. I would add the following questions as well: Is pricing a sustainable long-term strategy? What should be the key considerations in addressing where and how to focus? In response, I submit, pricing is not a sustainable strategy. The focus should be on both quantity and quality of exports. But admittedly, charity begins at home. Thus our focus should be to satisfy local demand with locally valued added goods before we venture outside our home.

November 08, 2013

I think these are very good news for Tanzanians. What need to be done is to ensure such expansion in export is realized in terms of increased jobs for youth through industries. I think technological linkages, especially in agricultural sector will translate into emerging of primary and secondary processing agro-plants. This way farmers groups can either sell their products in raw form or add value before exporting/selling to big companies. So, there is a need to ensure export basket is full of processed goods as opposed to raw materials/unfinished good