Nicaragua's total trade volume grew considerably during the 1970s because of the country's membership in the CACM and because of worldwide inflation. Following the Sandinista revolution and the virtual collapse of the CACM because of political instability in the region, Nicaragua's imports and exports fell by more than half from 1976 to 1985.
By 1986, Latin America and EC member countries, particularly Germany, accounted for the bulk of Nicaragua's trade volume; and the Communist bloc had filled the breach opened by the shutting down of US commerce. The Chamorro government changed Nicaragua's trading partners as it reduced trade barriers in 1991. The government issued export promotion incentives with special tax benefits for products sold outside Central America. The Communist bloc was discarded in favor of the US and South American countries, but Germany remained an important partner. By the Law of Free Trade Zones, Nicaragua waived all duties for imports used in the free zones. The result was widespread availability of US goods in several newly established Managua supermarkets.
One of the key engines of economic growth has been production for export. Although traditional products such as coffee, meat, and sugar continue to lead the list of Nicaraguan exports, during the late 1990s the fastest growth came in nontraditional exports: maquila goods (apparel), bananas, gold, seafood, and new agricultural products such as sesame, melons, and onions.
The most important commodity export from Nicaragua is coffee (28%), followed by shellfish (19%) and meat (9.4%). Other exports include sugar (5.8%), oil seeds (5.2%), and gold (3.6%).
In 2000 Nicaragua's imports were distributed among the following categories:
Principal trading partners in 2000 (in millions of US dollars) were as follows: