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Weak Rand plays havoc with trade balance

The continued weakening of the Rand and an increase in the volume of imports has seen Namibia’s trade deficit widen to N$17 billion, the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA) has said.
The country’s import bill jumped 24% in 2012 to N$59 billion widening the trade deficit to N$17 billion compared to N$11 billion in 2011. Despite a fall in the share of some of the major imports to the total import bill, the value of imports still increased to N$59 billion compared to N$48 billion in the previous year.
Major imports for 2012 included mineral fuels, mineral oils, vehicles, boilers and machinery. Fuel dominated the list of imports with a share of 13% up from 9% in the previous year. Vehicles were in second place with a share of 11% (compared to 12% in 2011) of total imports. Boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances occupied third place with 9% a slight decline from 10% in 2011.
The Statistics Agency said an 80% increase in the value of oil imports (at N$7.8 billion) can be explained by a 14% depreciation of the Namibia Dollar/Rand against the US$ in the period under review since the 2012 average price of oil in US dollars was almost the same as in 2011. In addition, an increase in the volume of imports especially ships, boats and floating structures that recorded the strongest increase of almost 2100%, also contributed to the widening deficits.
South Africa remains Namibia’s most important trading partner with combined trade between the two countries amounting to N$48.6 billion in 2012. However, the direction of trade between the two countries remain skewed with Namibia importing N$41.6 billion worth of goods from South Africa, while exporting goods worth only N$7 billion to South Africa.
Analysts say while a weaker local currency boosts earnings of companies that sell their goods overseas, it adds to import costs, making food and fuel more expensive. With a relatively low industrial base, and a saturation in the mining sector, Namibia’s exports only grew marginally to N$42 billion up from N$37 billion in 2011. This growth is too small to have a meaningful impact on the widening trade deficit.
In 2013, the construction of the multi-billion dollar Husab Project, the Grove Mall and Square, Strand Hotel, the container terminal at Walvis Bay, and the Neckartal Dam is likely to put further pressure on the import bill worsening Namibia’s trade deficit even further. An estimated 80% of capital goods for these projects will be imported.

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