A federation of 7 Western Asian emirates covering the south end of the Arabian Peninsula in the Persian Gulf, the United Arab Emirates shipped US$316.9 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2018. That dollar amount reflects a 1.1% uptick from 2017 to 2018 but a -16.7% decline since 2014.
The latest available country-specific data prorated from 2018 shows that 49.4% of products exported from UAE were bought by importers in: Saudi Arabia (9.7% of the global total), India (5.7%), Iraq (5%), Oman (4.6%), Iran (4.6%), Switzerland (4.2%), Kuwait (3.7%), Hong Kong (2.8%), United States (2.8%), China (2.3%), Belgium (2%) and Bahrain (2%).
Given the UAE’s population of 9.7 million people, its total $316.9 billion in 2018 exports translates to roughly $32,700 for every resident in the sovereign absolute monarchy.
In macroeconomic terms, the United Arab Emirates exported goods worth 24% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2018 ($71.8 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 24% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2018 compares to 28.3% for 2014, seeming to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for UAE’s total economic performance. And while this article focuses on exported goods, it is interesting to note that UAE also provided $71.8 billion worth of exports-related services to global customers for an additional 9.9% of GDP in PPP. These metrics include a significant amount of re-exporting activity.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. UAE’s unemployment rate was 2.57% in 2018 up from 2.46% one year earlier, per Trading Economics.
UAE’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in UAE global shipments during 2018. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from the UAE.
- Mineral fuels including oil: US$92.5 billion (29.2% of total exports)
- Gems, precious metals: $45.9 billion (14.5%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $27.3 billion (8.6%)
- Machinery including computers: $17.6 billion (5.6%)
- Vehicles: $12.9 billion (4.1%)
- Aluminum: $6.4 billion (2%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $5.5 billion (1.7%)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $4.5 billion (1.4%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $4.2 billion (1.3%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: $3.5 billion (1.1%)
The UAE’s top 10 exports accounted for over two-thirds (69.5%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Perfumes and cosmetics was the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up by 48.4% since 2017.
In second place for improving export sales were mineral fuels including oil which was up by 33.7%, led by crude and refined petroleum oils.
UAE’s shipments of aircraft and spacecraft posted the third-fastest gain in value thanks to a 30.7% improvement.
The two decliners among UAE’s top 10 export categories were tobacco including manufactured substitutes (down -11.3%) and gems and precious metals (down -1.3%).
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, crude oil represents UAE’s most valuable exported product at 18.4% of the country’s total. In second place were refined petroleum oils (10.2%) trailed by phone system devices including smartphones (5.9%), gold (5%), jewelry (4.9%), unset diamonds (4.3%), cars (2.7%), unwrought aluminum (1.6%), computers including optical readers (1.3%) then cigars and cigarettes (1.3%).
Overall, the UAE achieved a $55.4 billion product trade surplus for 2018 up by 39.1% from $39.8 billion in black ink one year earlier.
The following types of UAE product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports.
In a nutshell, net exports represent the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.
- Mineral fuels including oil: US$77.1 billion (Up by 28.9% since 2017)
- Aluminum: $5.2 billion (Up by 3%)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $3 billion (Up by 7.4%)
- Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $876.1 million (Up by 60%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $610.7 million (Up by 67%)
- Books, newspapers, pictures: $409.4 million (Down by -24.1%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: $297.5 million (Reversing a -$958.7 million deficit)
- Ships, boats: $292.7 million (Up by 964.9%)
- Manmade filaments: $137.7 million (Down by -50.4%)
- Meat/seafood preparations: $124 million (Reversing a -$33 million deficit)
The UAE has highly positive net exports in the international trade of petroleum oils. In turn, these cashflows indicate UAE’s strong competitive advantages under the mineral fuels including oil product category.
Below are exports from the UAE that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country UAE’s goods trail UAE importer spending on foreign products.
- Machinery including computers: -US$11 billion (Down by -26.9% since 2017)
- Gems, precious metals: -$8.3 billion (Up by 0.5%)
- Vehicles: -$7.6 billion (Down by -21.7%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$6.9 billion (Down by -69.5%)
- Iron, steel: -$3.3 billion (Up by 4.3%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: -$2.8 billion (Down by -47.5%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$2.7 billion (Down by -13.3%)
- Inorganic chemicals: -$2.2 billion (Up by 34%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$2 billion (Down by -19.8%)
- Meat: -$1.6 billion (Down by -0.6%)
UAE has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the machinery including computers category.
Major Companies Headquartered in the UAE
Ten UAE business entities rank among Forbes Global 2000. The world-class UAE companies are listed in descending order starting with those with the highest dollar value in annual revenues.
- First Abu Dhabi Bank (banking services)
- Etisalat (telecom services, equipment)
- Emirates NBD (regional bank)
- Emaar Properties (real estate)
- DP World (marine terminal operations)
- Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (regional bank)
- Dubai Islamic Bank (regional bank)
- Mashreq Bank (regional bank)
- Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (regional bank)
- Union National Bank (regional bank)
Wikipedia lists exports-related companies located in the UAE. Selected examples from the energy sector are shown below, this time listed in alphabetical order.
- ADNOC Gas Processing (state-owned natural gas)
- Abu Dhabi National Energy Co (state-owned holding company)
- Abu Dhabi National Oil Co (state-owned petroleum)
- Dana Gas (privately-owned natural gas)
The UAE’s capital city is Abu Dhabi.
See also Top Middle Eastern Export Countries, Crude Oil Exports by Country and Petroleum Gas Exports by Country
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Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on December 8, 2018
The World Factbook, Middle East: United Arab Emirates. Accessed on December 8, 2018
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on July 18, 2019
Wikipedia, List of Companies of UAE. Accessed on December 8, 2018
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on July 18, 2019
Wikipedia, United Arab Emirates. Accessed on December 8, 2018
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