Saudi Arabia Business Profile
Statistics• GDP: US$310 billion (2005).
• Main exports: Petroleum and petroleum products.
• Main imports: Machinery and equipment, food, chemicals, motor vehicles and textiles.
• Main trade partners: USA, Japan, China (PR), Korea (Rep), UK, Taiwan (China) and Singapore.
EconomySaudi Arabia has the world’s largest oil reserves (about 20% of proven deposits) and is also currently the world’s largest producer. Oil and natural gas products now account for 35% of Saudi GDP, 75% of government revenue and 85% of export income.
The non-oil economy is devoted to agriculture and newly developed industries (considerable effort has been put into ensuring adequate irrigation and industrial water supplies in a country with extremely low rainfall). Agriculture, which supports a little over 10% of the workforce, produces wheat, fruit, vegetables, barley, eggs and poultry, in most of which the kingdom is now self-sufficient. In addition to oil and gas, there are other confirmed and exploitable mineral deposits including limestone, gypsum and marble plus phosphates, bauxite and gold.
The industrial sector produces petrochemicals, steel, engineering and construction materials and a wide range of consumer goods. The service sector is the fastest growing part of the economy at present, with finance and business services, consultancies and property services prominent.
The rapid expansion of the Saudi economy from the 1960s onwards stalled during the late 1980s as overstretched finances and persistently low world oil prices forced the Saudi exchequer to rein in its spending plans (government debt is now nearly 100% of GDP – much of which, such as US$40 billion of loans to Iraq, may not be recovered).
This has had unfortunate consequences for the large body of foreign labour (an estimated 35% of the workforce) upon which the Saudis rely for much of their technical, managerial and menial labour. Foreigners are now barred from a range of occupations as the government seeks to tackle Saudi unemployment, which is estimated to be around 25%.
Meanwhile, the average Saudi income has fallen by around 40% in the last 20 years. At present, the economy is picking up, growing by 6.6% in 2005.
Since the late 1990s, the Saudis have gradually introduced economic reforms. A thriving private sector is viewed as essential to the government’s objective of diversifying the economy and reducing reliance on the oil and gas sector. Some state-owned businesses have been sold and a number of measures taken to deregulate the economy and open up domestic markets to foreign competition.
To that end, a trade agreement has been signed with the European Union, and Saudi Arabia is expected to join the World Trade Organization in due course. Saudi Arabia is the most influential member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and of the Islamic Development Bank.
Business EtiquetteAppointments are necessary. Business cards printed in English with an Arab translation are usually exchanged. Men should wear suits for business meetings and formal social occasions. Thursday and Friday are official holidays.
Office hours: Sat-Wed 0800-1200 and 1500-1800 (Ramadan 2000-0100), Thurs 0800-1200, with some regional variation.
Government office hours: Sat-Wed 07:30-14:30.
Commercial InformationCouncil of Saudi Chambers of Commerce & Industry
PO Box 16683, Riyadh 11474, Saudi Arabia
Tel: (1) 405 3200 or 7502.
Riyadh Exhibitions Company Ltd (Information on Conferences/Conventions)
Saudi Arabian Ministry of Commerce (Information on
Send E-mail to
TSN@The-Saudi.Net with questions or
comments about The Saudi Network.