The UAE has overtaken Saudi Arabia to become the top importer in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region.
Figures from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which covered nearly 30 countries in the Arab world, North Africa and former Soviet republics, showed the UAE was the largest consumer market in 2006, with imports of $123.6 billion (Dh454bn).
Saudi Arabia retreated to second place, with imports totalling $120.2bn (Dh441bn) while Iran was the third largest importer, at a value of $64.6bn (Dh237bn). IMF projections showed the UAE will maintain its position in 2007 given rapid growth in its economy. The IMF forecast UAE imports would peak at about $149.1bn (Dh548bn) in 2007 while those by Saudi Arabia will total nearly $142.9bn (Dh525bn).
According to Dubai customs data, top imports by monetary value in 2006 included gold ingots and jewellery, non-industrial diamonds, telephone handsets, iron and steel bars, and 4x4 vehicles. The UAE has also overtaken Saudi Arabia as the top consumer market in the region. Experts attributed this to the robust economy of the UAE, a surge in re-exports to Iran and other countries, and a steady growth in free zones.
Such factors were also key reasons for sharp rise in exports, which peaked at nearly $157.1bn (Dh577bn) in 2006 and are projected by the IMF to hit $171.3bn (Dh629bn) in 2007. The surge will allow the UAE to maintain its status as the second largest Mena exporter, with estimated exports of $212.7bn (Dh781bn) in 2007.
The UAE also emerged as the third largest economy in the region after Saudi Arabia and Iran, with its GDP at around $168.5bn (Dh619bn) in 2006.