This is the beginning of J&A’s five-part series on global trade in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The following articles focus on imports and exports for the MENA region as they relate to other major economies, the role of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in the region, the region’s fuel dependency, the region’s growing focus on food independence, and finally the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) role for the MENA region and across the world.
The data and analysis contained within these articles is taken from the World Bank, World Customs Organization nomenclature, sector classifications for the harmonized system, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, and J&A’s own market intelligence.
The MENA Region Competes With China and the USA on Gross Import and Export Volume
- The MENA region’s imports and exports are approximately half the volume of the USA and China.
- The MENA region imports approximately 50% as many goods as China.
- The MENA region exports approximately 60% as many goods as the USA.
MENA Exports Are Steadily Expanding Across All Categories
- Fuel represents approximately 50% of MENA’s exports, concentrated regionally in just a few countries. This will be discussed in part three of this series.
- Fuel exports have been steadily increasing from the MENA region since 2015.
- Only miscellaneous categories of exports have decreased since 2015, suggesting a focusing of MENA economies. Miscellaneous exports include items like watch pieces.
MENA Imports Raw Materials More Than Any Other Category, Suggesting a Focus on Regional Manufacturing
- The steady decrease of MENA imports coupled with the steady increase of exports is good news for MENA countries seeking self-sufficient economies.
- Raw materials are a large portion of MENA’s imports, suggesting a focus on refinement and manufacturing for the region.
- The year 2018 showed the lowest total imports since 2015.
The chart below identifies the type of products associated with each import and export category based on World Bank nomenclature.
The MENA Region Plays an Important Role in Global Trade Due to Its Geographic Position
MENA’s trade position is unique when compared to China and the USA. MENA’s dominance is driven by the presence of oil, a natural resource. The USA and China’s imports and exports are not driven by a natural resource and are therefore easier to replicate. If MENA countries successfully diversify their economies, the region can become an increasingly powerful player by building on this natural resource foundation and then competing with other regions on services, technology, and other high-growth sectors. Due to current reforms in major MENA countries, the region is actively accomplishing this.
Lastly, the MENA region is a gateway between the growing economies of Africa and Southeast Asia and more stabilized regions like North America and Europe. This gives the region a strong value-added position when participating in trade between these other parts of the world.
In the next newsletter, J&A will take a deeper dive into the imports and exports of UAE and KSA. We will compare the UAE and KSA’s imports and exports to each other and the MENA region while investigating what each country must do to maintain its competitive advantage.