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Last Published: 8/7/2019

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been the top U.S. export market in the Middle East North Africa region for the last 10 years and a critical regional hub for 1,500 American companies doing business throughout the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.  The UAE has a population of approximately 9.8 million, out of which about 85 percent are expatriates.  The UAE's GDP is expected to expand 3.5 percent this year compared to 2.8 percent in 2018, thanks to an Abu Dhabi-led $13.6 billion stimulus package announced in June 2018 and a host of measures taken to improve the ease of doing business across the country. 

Due to its vast oil reserves and sovereign wealth funds (approximately $1.3 trillion), the UAE is well positioned to handle the volatility of the oil economy.  Over the past year, the UAE governments (both Federal and Emirate-level) have worked to mollify business perceptions about the increasing costs of doing business in the UAE by announcing investment plans (ADNOC committed to $132 billion in capital investments over the next five years and Ghadan (“tomorrow”) 2021 Abu Dhabi investment plan, for example).  Abu Dhabi is generally more exposed to the commodities downturn given its reliance on the oil sector.  As a result, the government has enacted austerity campaigns to rein in its spending.  This includes fiscal restraints and revenue-generating measures across the board (e.g., energy price reforms, subsidy reforms, wage freezes, prioritization of capital spending, and expansion of non-oil tax revenues).  Over the past year, many expatriate positions have been eliminated as local companies and government entities integrate larger numbers of Emirati employees and cut costs to compensate for lower revenues. 

Recent onshore and offshore energy concession awards signed with Occidental Petroleum, Total, and Eni, have injected capital into the parastatal Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and bolstered confidence in the short to medium term within the energy sector.  In the infrastructure sector, supply-side concerns remain given sluggish economic growth in the run-up to Dubai Expo 2020, which is scheduled from October 2020 – April 2021.  The UAE government remains at the forefront of new technology adoption, from artificial intelligence (AI) to autonomous vehicles and data analytics, providing companies, especially start-ups, the opportunity to innovate and grow on fertile ground.  In the healthcare sector, the UAE has made reforms and continues to look for partnerships with U.S. companies, including hospitals, to help keep pace with the growing demand for services.  The Mubadala Investment Company’s flagship Cleveland Clinic investment in Abu Dhabi remains the centerpiece of leadership’s strategy to move care from abroad to in-country, cutting costs and providing top-flight health care closer to home.  However, Cleveland Clinic has struggled with low occupancy and usage, as Emiratis have been slow to embrace the in-country model. 

The UAE continues to move forward with its Emiratization and localization strategies, including offset and in-country value requirements for U.S. companies to bid on government tenders in the defense and energy sectors.  The experience of U.S. industry have been mixed to date, largely depending on their local footprint in-country, but it remains an important factor for all companies to understand prior to market entry.  Recent announcements from Abu Dhabi government officials signal that in country value requirements could soon expand into other sectors of the economy. 

As the leading commercial hub serving the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, the UAE (especially Dubai) continues to play a central role as a regional trade, logistics, and tourism hub.  Intellectual property rights remain a concern for U.S. companies in this market.  While the UAE has made progress over the last year addressing concerns raised in the 2018 Special 301 report, it remains on the 2019 watch list.  In addition, U.S. companies continue to complain about payment challenges in the market in addition to standards, which do not always track with international best practice. 

Finally, the UAE is home to the most vibrant and well attended international trade shows in multiple sectors.  These provide unparalleled opportunities for U.S. companies to discover the market and the region.  The following four trade shows are not to be missed for U.S. companies interested in doing business in the region:
-               GITEX (ICT) – Date:  October 6-10, 2019
-               ADIPEC (Energy) – Date:  November 11-14, 2019
-               Dubai Air Show (Aviation/Space) – Date:  November 17-21, 2019
-               Arab Health (Healthcare) – Date:  January 27-30, 2020

Prepared by our U.S. Embassies abroad. With its network of 108 offices across the United States and in more than 75 countries, the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce utilizes its global presence and international marketing expertise to help U.S. companies sell their products and services worldwide. Locate the U.S. Commercial Service trade specialist in the U.S. nearest you by visiting