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Market of the Month: United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), a confederation of seven emirates, is highly cosmopolitan and features a large expatriate workforce. The most well-known emirate is the business center of Dubai, while the largest, Abu Dhabi, covers 80 percent of the landmass and holds most of the UAE’s vast oil and gas reserves. In recent years, the UAE has emerged as one of the top markets for U.S. exports in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2000, U.S. exports to the UAE were only $2 billion, but they now exceed $13 billion.

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Photo of The Emirate Towers – Dubai
Photo of The Emirate Towers – Dubai


The vast oil wealth in Abu Dhabi, the business acumen of Dubai, and the government’s desire to rapidly develop the country has resulted in a sustained boom in business opportunities. Despite current problems caused by the global financial crisis, the UAE remains a good market for U.S. firms dealing in infrastructure, oil and gas, defense, green building technologies and services, solar energy, and health care products and services.

A Business Hub for the Middle East

Dubai is the financial and logistics hub for the Middle East. Abu Dhabi has emerged as the strongest link in the economy because it controls nearly all of the country’s oil and gas revenue. The other five emirates—Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah, Umm al Qaiwain, Ajman, and Fujairah—also offer business opportunities as they seek to develop their economies to take advantage of the overall growth in the UAE’s economy.

Market Entry Strategy

U.S. exporters are encouraged to become familiar with the different markets within the UAE to understand the opportunities and challenges of each one. In most cases, U.S. exporters should have or are required to have a local agent, distributor, or representative to assist them in building a presence in the market.

The official language is Arabic, but the operational language is English, because 85 percent of the people are expatriates from more than 100 countries. Patience, politeness, and willingness to be on the ground are critical to success. U.S. firms should be prepared for protracted periods of negotiation and bargaining.

For more information about exporting to the UAE, visit