United Arab Emirates - Country Commercial Guide
Market Overview

Do you want to export to The United Arab Emirates? Start by using the Country Commercial Guide, a trusted resource for companies.

Last published date: 2022-01-08

Note: The global COVID-19 pandemic and worldwide economic downturn impacted the UAE, as it did every country around the world. The pandemic created an unprecedented economic crisis as oil prices declined, cutting the UAE’s oil revenues significantly, and the non-oil economy suffered from severe declines in the tourism, aviation, trade, and logistics sectors. The downturn made economic projections uncertain. Every effort has been made to use the latest data, yet much of the available data is from 2019, 2018, and recent years. Please contact our office for updates and the latest information.

 

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been the top U.S. export market in the Middle East and Africa region for the last 12 years and is a global hub for over 1,500 American companies doing business throughout the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Asia. While the UAE has a population of only 9.8 million, out of which almost 90% are expatriates, it is a critical market for U.S. companies to gain a foothold to do business internationally. The UAE’s dynamic economy, which is diversifying quickly and aims to transform itself into a knowledge economy over the next decade, openness to international business, and strategic location as a gateway to the region create business opportunities and make the UAE an attractive market for U.S. exporters.

The pandemic dealt a twin blow to the UEA’s economy, driving down oil prices and reducing the country’s oil revenues, and significantly impacting the non-oil economy that was dependent on aviation, tourism, and trade.  As a result, real GDP fell by 5.9% in 2020, before picking up with a projected growth rate of 2.2% in 2021, according to the International Monetary Fund. The UAE is expected to bounce back and recover to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity over the next three years. Amidst this disruption, UAE officials are implementing notable reforms in an effort to attract investment and capture first-mover advantages in several sectors.

National and Emirate-level governments invest heavily in economic diversification and growth. With its oil reserves and sovereign wealth funds valued at approximately $1.3 trillion, the UAE has resources, without the structural liabilities some of its neighbors must sustain, to help it navigate the volatility of the oil market and other challenges. The UAE aims to expand its role as a regional trade, logistics, tourism, and digital hub.

Expo 2020 Dubai was postponed due to COVID-19 and is being held in Dubai from October 2021 through March 2022. The U.S. Mission in the UAE is partnering with U.S. business associations and companies to support activities at the USA Pavilion, and the U.S. Commercial Service is organizing a Discover America campaign to give U.S. companies an opportunity to leverage this mega event to increase U.S. exports to the region. Millions of visitors are expected at the Expo, and there are over 190 participating countries.

Trade Winds, the largest U.S. government-led trade mission and business development forum., will be hosted in Dubai March 6-8, 2022. Organized by the U.S. Commercial Service, Trade Winds will feature meetings with U.S. commercial diplomats from over 20 countries from the Middle East, North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa, exciting conference programming, and plenty of networking.

The UAE is home to world-class trade events and visiting or exhibiting at a trade event can be a great way to learn about and expand in the UAE and the region. However, some trade events may be postponed or be virtual due to the pandemic. Top trade events include:

  • Arab Health (Healthcare)
  • ADIPEC, November 2022.
  • IDEX International Defense Exhibition (Defense), March 19-23, 2023.
  • Dubai Airshow, November 2023.

While the UAE has a bright future and presents many opportunities for U.S. companies in the long term, the pandemic has dimmed prospects for growth in the short term, and the UAE market’s structural and regulatory challenges require preparation and foresight. These are covered in the sections discussing challenges and intellectual property rights as well as other chapters. Due diligence is highly recommended, as it is when doing business in any international market. And be wary of scams and frauds - we receive frequent inquiries from U.S. companies solicited by alleged UAE investors that turn out to be scams.

To summarize, the UAE offers an attractive long-term market while presenting significant near-term challenges primarily associated with fallout from the pandemic. That said, of all the potential markets in the Middle East Africa region, the UAE cannot be overlooked due to its forward looking outlook, ambitious vision, and healthy balance sheet, thanks to its significant sovereign wealth. Our team of experienced commercial specialists in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are ready to assist U.S. companies to enter and expand in this market and we encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities in the region.