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United Arab Emirates

Economic Overview

For the latest updates on the key economic responses from governments to address the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, please consult the IMF's policy tracking platform Policy Responses to COVID-19.

The United Arab Emirates registered subdued economic performance in recent years, partly due to cuts in oil output as part of OPEC agreements, continued corporate restructuring, reduced government investment and declining real estate prices. External factors also include a slowing global economy, geopolitical tensions, weaker energy demand and the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, the country returned to robust growth in 2022 (5.1% of GDP according to the IMF), led by a strong rebound in tourism, construction, and activity related to the Dubai World Expo, as well as higher oil production, with elevated oil prices supporting high surpluses in the fiscal and external balances. Domestic activity should support the economy in 2023, with growth forecast at 4.2% by the IMF. Non-hydrocarbon growth, in particular, should be around 4% and is expected to accelerate over the medium term with the implementation of ongoing reforms. For 2024, the IMF forecasts GDP growth at 3.9%.

The UAE’s public finances are sound. In 2022, higher oil prices contributed to an increase in government revenues (almost half of the total fiscal revenues derive from the hydrocarbon sector) and to an improved budget surplus estimated at 9.4% of GDP by Fitch Ratings. In light of the likely drop in oil prices, Fitch expects the surplus to narrow accordingly, to 4.4% in 2023 and 0.9% in 2024. The consolidated UAE government debt-to-GDP ratio decreased to 30.7% of GDP in 2022 (from 34.7% one year earlier) and should follow a downward trend over the forecast horizon (29%). Nevertheless, the seven Emirates have varied debt profiles, with the Emirate of Dubai recording the highest level, at 81% of its GDP in 2022 (Fitch). Furthermore, the UAE’s Central Bank and sovereign wealth funds own important foreign assets, providing the country with a large liquidity cushion (Abu Dhabi holds the world's fourth-largest sovereign wealth fund) and making the country a net creditor at the global level. Overall, the Federation is estimated to have around USD 700 billion of assets in its sovereign wealth funds (Coface). In line with global trends, inflation has risen to an average of 5.2% in 2022. The IMF expects inflationary pressures to moderate gradually to 3.6% this year and 2% in 2024. In the context of the ambitious ‘Project of the 50’ agenda, the government took a series of measures to improve competitiveness, attract investments, modernise and diversify its economy. The government also introduced a corporate income tax regime in 2022.

The UAE has one of the highest per capita income levels in the world (estimated at USD 77,272 in 2022 at PPP by the IMF) and a highly developed welfare system. It also has one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the Middle East, at 3.4% in 2022 according to the World Bank (while Dubai enjoys the lowest unemployment level in the world, at around 0.5%) and depends heavily on foreign labour (more than 85% of the workforce). A policy of 'Emiratisation' has been launched to encourage the employment of the local workforce; nevertheless, the unemployment rate among nationals continues to be considerably high compared to the rate among non-nationals (it varies according to the emirate and is the highest in Abu Dhabi).

Main Indicators 202020212022 (E)2023 (E)2024 (E)
GDP (billions USD) 349.47415.02507.54498.98519.23
GDP (Constant Prices, Annual % Change) -
GDP per Capita (USD) 37,64943,42251,30649,45250,698
General Government Gross Debt (in % of GDP) 41.135.930.030.529.4
Inflation Rate (%) -2.1-
Current Account (billions USD) 21.1047.9559.6235.3336.55
Current Account (in % of GDP) 6.011.611.77.17.0

Source: IMF – World Economic Outlook Database , October 2021

Country Risk

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Main Sectors of Industry

According to the latest figures from the World Bank, agriculture contributes to 0.9% of GDP and employs a mere 1% of the workforce, as most of the country is unsuitable for agriculture and animal husbandry, with an agricultural area of only 390,000 ha (FAO). Hence, around 85% of UAE's food is imported. Fishing and date-growing are among the main agricultural activities.

Manufacturing activities have seen unprecedented growth in recent years, particularly in sectors such as metal processing, furniture, industrial preparation of foodstuffs, aluminium production, construction materials, fertilisers, the petrochemical industry, fibreglass and real estate. Industry now comprises 47.5% of GDP and employs 34% of the workforce. The portion of GDP from the oil and gas sector has declined gradually (about 30% of GDP according to the latest estimates) owing to a successful economic diversification policy. The United Arab Emirates is the world's 8th largest oil producer with significant reserves: its oil and gas reserves are estimated to last approximately 100 years at the current rate of consumption. The sector suffered from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic; however, it rebounded strongly in 2022, thanks to the rise in global energy commodities.

The tertiary sector contributes 51.6% of GDP and employs 64% of the workforce. The main sub-sectors are international trade, air transport, financial activities and tourism. The travel and tourism sector, in particular, has a total contribution of around 12% of GDP, mainly driven by the emirate of Dubai (UAE Official Portal). This sector was severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and recorded a contraction. Despite that, tourism restarted growing following the lifting of travel restrictions and in the first half of 2022 the tourism revenue of the United Arab Emirates surpassed USD 5 billion and attracted nearly 6 million visitors who spent 25 million hotel nights, reflecting a growth of 10% compared to the same period in 2019 (before the pandemic).

Breakdown of Economic Activity By Sector Agriculture Industry Services
Employment By Sector (in % of Total Employment) 1.4 34.2 64.4
Value Added (in % of GDP) 0.9 47.5 51.6
Value Added (Annual % Change) 28.5 2.5 4.9

Source: World Bank - Latest available data.

Monetary Indicators 20162017201820192020
UAE Dirham (AED) - Average Annual Exchange Rate For 1 USD 3.673.673.673.703.67

Source: World Bank - Latest available data.



Foreign Trade

The United Arab Emirates is among the world’s most dynamic markets in terms of foreign trade, with trade accounting for 167% of the GDP according to the latest available data from World Bank. The country is one of the world's top 20 largest exporters and importers of commodities and the largest trading nation in the Middle East. Oil products are by far the largest item of exports (the country is the world’s 5th oil exporter), followed by gold, telephone sets, diamonds, and jewellery. Gold is also among the major imports, along with telephones, diamonds, motor cars, and jewellery (data Comtrade).

Saudi Arabia is the top destination of Emirati exports (6.2%), followed by India (5.6%), Iraq (3.4%), Hong Kong (2.5%), Oman (2.4%), and Kuwait (2.2%). China (14.9%), India (6%), the United States (4.9%), Japan (3.1%) and Turkey (2.8%) are among the United Arab Emirates' main suppliers of goods and services. The recent UAE-Israel normalization deal, which comprises trade and technology cooperation and allows UAE oil to be sent directly to Europe via an Israeli pipeline, should positively impact trade in the upcoming future. In 2022, the country also signed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements with Indonesia and India, with more agreements under discussion with partners like Turkey, Colombia, Ukraine, Cambodia, etc.

The United Arab Emirates has a structurally positive trade balance, but the surplus is closely linked to global oil prices. In 2021, the country recorded a trade surplus accounting for 25.3% of its GDP (World Bank). According to WTO data, in the same year, the UAE exported USD 425.1 billion worth of goods (+33.1% y-o-y) and USD 101.8 billion (+66.2% y-o-y) of services, importing USD 347.5 billion (+53.9% y-o-y) worth of goods and USD 76.1 billion worth services (+30.8% y-o-y). Preliminary estimates by the UAE government indicate that the UAE’s foreign trade is expected to reach about USD 599.4 billion by the end of 2022, marking a 15% growth compared to one year earlier. Moreover, for the first nine months of the year, non-oil exports accounted for almost 20% of the UAE's total trade, a significant jump from 11% just five years ago.

Foreign Trade Values 20172018201920202021
Imports of Goods (million USD) 273,710261,538267,937225,741347,529
Exports of Goods (million USD) 313,547387,910389,373319,278425,160
Imports of Services (million USD) 70,58171,01486,86258,16276,106
Exports of Services (million USD) 69,58270,87889,28561,266101,838

Source: World Trade Organisation (WTO) ; Latest available data

Foreign Trade Indicators 20162017201820192020
Foreign Trade (in % of GDP) 170.9172.8157.9167.4166.6
Imports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change)
Exports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 3.4-2.511.5-1.3-7.0
Imports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 73.274.565.970.770.6
Exports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 97.798.392.096.795.9

Source: World Bank ; Latest available data

Foreign Trade Forecasts 20222023 (e)2024 (e)2025 (e)2026 (e)
Volume of exports of goods and services (Annual % change) 7.4-
Volume of imports of goods and services (Annual % change) 14.8-

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook ; Latest available data

Note: (e) Estimated Data

International Economic Cooperation
The United Arab Emirates is a member of the following international economic organisations: Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), ICC, Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (ABEDA), IMF, Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD), G-77, Arab Monetary Fund (AMF), WTO, Arab League, among others. For the full list of economic and other international organisations in which participates the United Arab Emirates click here. International organisation membership of the United Arab Emirates is also outlined here.
Free Trade Agreements
The complete and up-to-date list of Free Trade Agreements signed by the United Arab Emirates can be consulted here.

Main Partner Countries

Main Customers
(% of Exports)
Saudi Arabia 6.2%
India 5.6%
Hong Kong SAR, China 2.5%
Oman 2.4%
Kuwait 2.2%
See More Countries 81.0%
Main Suppliers
(% of Imports)
China 14.9%
India 6.0%
United States 4.9%
Japan 3.1%
Türkiye 2.8%
See More Countries 68.4%

Source: Comtrade, Latest Available Data



Political Outline

Current Political Leaders
President: MUHAMMAD bin Rashid Al-Nuhayan (since May 2022)
Prime Minister and Vice-President: MUHAMMAD BIN RASHID Al-Maktum (since January 2006)
Next Election Dates
Presidential: n/a
Federal National Council (FNC): October 2023
Current Political Context
The UAE has enjoyed a rather stable general political situation despite continuous tensions with Iran and Qatar, as well as the crisis in Lebanon and the conflict in Yemen (Houthi's launched a drone and a missile attack which they called "Operation Hurricane of Yemen" on Abu Dhabi in January 2022). In recent years, the UAE normalized its relations with Israel, becoming the third Middle Eastern country to recognize the country along with Egypt and Jordan. Furthermore, the UAE maintained its neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Following the death of Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, his half-brother Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has been officially nominated president of the UAE after ruling de facto the country since his brother suffered a stroke in 2014. Among the most important political decisions of 2022, there was the introduction of a 9% corporate income tax rate, which became effective as of 1 January 2023. Finally, the UAE will host COP28 in November 2023, which will put the country in the world’s focus.
Main Political Parties
There are no political parties in the UAE.
Executive Power
Each Emirate is governed by an Emir and has its own administration. Every Emir manages his Emirate's resources autonomously.
The Federal Supreme Council, composed of the 7 emirate rulers, is the highest authority of the UAE and holds legislative and executive powers. The Emir of Abu Dhabi, the biggest oil producing Emirate, was elected President of the UAE in 2004, succeeding his father. The Emir of Dubai has been nominated Vice-President and Prime Minister.
Legislative Power
There is only one Chamber: the Federal National Council. It consists of 40 members of which 20 are appointed by the rulers of the seven Emirates, and 20 are indirectly elected, whereby each Emirate has a number of representatives equivalent to its demographic weight. Their mandate is for four years. This council has only consultative functions.


COVID-19 Country Response

Travel restrictions
Regularly updated travel information for all countries with regards to Covid-19 related entry regulations, flight bans, test and vaccines requirements is available on TravelDoc Infopage.
To find information about the current travel regulations, including health requirements, it is also advised to consult Travel Regulations Map provided and updated on a daily basis by IATA.
Import & export restrictions
A general overview of trade restrictions which were adopted by different countries during the COVID-19 pandemic is available on the International Trade Centre's COVID-19 Temporary Trade Measures webpage.
Economic recovery plan
For the general overview of the key economic policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic (fiscal, monetary and macroeconomic) undertaken by the government of the United Arab Emirates, please consult the country's dedicated section in the IMF’s Policy Tracker platform.
Support plan for businesses
For an evaluation of impact of the Covid pandemic on SMEs and an inventory of country responses to foster SME resilience, refer to the OECD's SME Covid-19 Policy Responses document.
You can also consult the World Bank's Map of SME-Support Measures in Response to COVID-19.