Top 5 Emerging Market Import/Export Centers in 2024

Customs clearance procedures and port handling in emerging markets are becoming more efficient thanks to digitalization, tariff reduction, and special zones. Which countries are essential nodes in global trade in 2024?

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One way of looking at international trade is to see it as the cumulative exchange of goods and services across borders over time.

Every component used in a finished product has been through the import/export process several times before becoming a finished product, which itself will be exported to somewhere.

In other words, it is mainly the import and export of goods that makes the global economy tick.

However, since each jurisdiction has its own specific regulations with regard to port handling and customs clearance, the import and export of commodities is subject to special regulations between any two given countries.

Some countries tend to have more lenient regulations in place for cargo handling and customs enforcement, which have turned them into havens of import/export and thus crucial links in the supply chains of many products.

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As the quintessential open economy in the Gulf region, Qatar has streamlined many of its import/export processes.
Customs clearance is said to be a very straightforward process at Qatar’s Hamad Port, thanks to digitalization of processes.

The country’s low customs duty (5% since 2021) is yet another reason for Qatar becoming an import/export hub.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the country has most recently recorded staggering total exports of USD88 billion, despite its size and population.

Its total imports, meanwhile, stand at USD28 billion, giving Qatar a significant trade surplus of roughly USD60 billion. While its top exports are hydrocarbons, the nation’s top imports are cars, gas turbines, and jewelry, respectively.


Also an established trading nation, Malaysia imposes an average customs tariff of 6-10%.

However, as Malaysia is a signatory to several free trade agreements in place with Australia, India, Japan, Pakistan, and Türkiye, among others, no tariffs are levied on many shipments.

The country’s Free Industrial Zones (FIZs) and Free Commercial Zones (FCZs) are largely tariff-free, which speeds up the process of customs clearance.

With a total export value of just under USD300 billion per year, and total imports of USD240 billion, Malaysia is enjoying a positive trade balance of USD60 billion. Interestingly, both top imports and top exports of Malaysia are circuit boards, electronic components, and integrated circuits.

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The establishment of free economic zones is precisely what Uzbekistan has been doing as part of the nation’s ongoing economic reforms.

Some 24 Special Economic Zones (SEZs) have been launched so far in the country, where import/export protocols are being simplified.

Being a (double) landlocked country, shipment of cargo is done mostly through railway and roads.

The China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan International Highway (CKU)—which is currently under construction—could increase the volume of cargo traffic to and from Uzbekistan. All this is reflected in country’s total trade turnover, which passed the USD50 billion mark in 2022, showing a 18% jump compared to the previous year.


As the gateway to East Africa, Kenya is an aspiring trade hub, especially in light of the region’s Single Customs Territory which

Kenya launched along with Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda in 2014.
Over the last decade, Kenya has considerably smoothened its once challenging customs procedures.

In 2021, the country announced a fully digitized customs system known as the Integrated Customs Management System (iCMS) at the Port of Mombasa.

With total trade turnover of USD25 billion—which comes with a USD12 billion trade deficit—Kenya has much room for improvement.

However, as the exploration for oil continues, resulting in an increase of petroleum exports, Kenya’s trade deficit may soon be cancelled out.

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In Latin America, Colombia is similarly relying on lenient trade policies and free trade zones to establish itself as an import/export hub, especially after the beginning of the Colombian Peace Process in 2016.

The country has well-developed logistics infrastructure at the ports of Cartagena and Buenaventura, which are among the best shipping facilities in Latin America.

Zona Franca de Cartagena is the nation’s leading free economic zone, where little or no import/export tariffs are levied.

Thanks to all of this, the country’s total exports has grown to USD29 billion, while total imports remain at just under USD25 billion, giving Columbia a trade surplus.