(1) MAJOR FEATURES OF THE ECONOMY
1. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates located in the Arabian Gulf. Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah are the three largest ; Abu Dhabi City is the federal capital. The UAE shares a border with Saudi Arabia and Oman. It has a land mass of 83,600 square kilometres , and a total population estimated at 4.32 million (Table I.1). The urban population accounts for 75% of inhabitants as four fifths of the territory is desert. About 80% of the UAE's population is foreign. The UAE has the world's fifth largest proven reserves of crude oil (9% of total world reserves), and fourth largest reserves of natural gas (5% of the world total). The authorities estimate that these reserves will last more than 100 years at current production rates.
The United Arab Emirates at a glance, 1995 and 2004
Population (million) 2.40 4.32
GDP total (billion, at current prices)
In UAE dirhams 145.3 378.8
In U.S. dollars 42.7 103.1
GDP per capita (US$) 17,720 23,722
Share of GDP at current prices (per cent)
Agriculture, livestock and fishery 2.9 2.7
Mining 30.9 32.8
Manufacturing 10.4 13.1
Electricity, water, and gas 1.5 2.0
Construction 8.7 7.5
Trade 11.7 12.2
Transport, storage and communications 6.7 7.2
Real estate 10.0 7.8
Financial services 5.6 5.9
Government services 10.6 8.5
Source: Ministry of Information and Culture (2005), United Arab Emirates Yearbook 2005; and IMF Staff Reports, various issues.
2. Among the Emirates, Abu Dhabi accounts for more than half of the country's total GDP, close to 40% of the population, and over 90% of crude oil and gas production. Dubai is the second largest emirate in terms of economic size, and contributes one quarter of the country's total GDP. In 2004, Dubai welcomed close to 5 million tourists, and 16 million passengers used its airport. It has become the region's centre for trade, essentially by developing its location as a leading transhipment and re-export centre, based on a long-standing trading history and a generally pro-business stance. The other emirates rely on a mix of trade and light manufacturing, and depend on financial support from the Federal Government and the two largest emirates. The highly decentralized policy-making process appears to induce intense competition among the large emirates (in particular) in terms of economic achievement, and may explain that infrastructure, such as ports, airports, and free zones, tends to be replicated across the country.
3. The federal economy depends for one third of its GDP on petroleum and gas mining (down from 74% in 1980), a relatively low share compared with other Gulf countries. The services sector contributes about 55% to GDP, led by external trade – the country is an important transhipment and re-export centre – and by public administration services, wholesale and retail trade, real estate and construction; this share has not expanded significantly since 1995. Nevertheless, these main subsectors have grown significantly in nominal value terms, as the price of oil increased substantially from its 1995 level of US$20/barrel. The manufacturing sector is large and dynamic, largely based on activities in free zones. Agriculture contributes 2.9% to the GDP; this share is high given the quasi-desert nature of the territory, and is achieved thanks to important state support since the early 1980s.
4. The total GDP of the UAE is estimated at around US$103 billion (Table I.1). Its growth over the last thirty years has allowed the country to achieve one of the world's highest per capita incomes, at close to US$24,000. In 2002, the UAE ranked 49th out of 177 countries in terms of the UNDP Human Development Indicators. This performance was made possible partly by the expansion of the hydrocarbon subsector, but mainly by a large and sustained influx of foreign labour that allowed the non-oil sector to develop rapidly and competitively (Chart I.1). The growth of labour and capital, rather than total factor productivity, accounts for most non-oil output expansion over the 1981-2000 period. In turn, this expansion was possible because of the UAE's open foreign labour policy, which has enabled the private sector to recruit expatriate workers at competitive wages.
5. In recent years, unemployment among UAE nationals has become a political issue as it has increased slightly to 2.7%. Even though this rate is relatively low, it concerns mostly Emiratis because foreigners do not generally have access to unemployment status and benefits, and therefore are not recorded. Moreover, close to half the Emirati population is under 15 years old, and a large number of nationals is likely to enter the labour force in the near future. To create employment opportunities for UAE nationals, "emiratization quotas" and other measures have been put in place at federal level (Box I.1). This quota policy, if widely implemented, could become an impediment to doing business in the UAE, essentially because of the lack of skilled UAE nationals in some professions; it would further increase the relative attractiveness of operating in the free zones, where these provisions do not apply.
6. The attractiveness of the UAE's free zones results partially from competition and investment restrictions that prevail in the rest of the economy. Although economic policy purports to be liberal and business-friendly throughout the UAE, important restrictions (through exclusive dealership arrangements, limitations on foreign ownership in local companies and substantial state involvement in selected activities) limit market competition in general, and foreign competition in particular; these restrictions do not apply to the free zones (Chapters II(5) and III(3)(v)). On the export side, UAE companies that compete internationally are in most cases government-owned, with access to ample finance on favourable terms; their management is frequently the same entity as their regulatory authorities (e.g. airlines and civil aviation authority, ports, the Dubai International Financial Centre).
7. The UAE dirham (Dh) was officially pegged to the Special Drawing Right (SDR) from November 1980 to December 2002, though, in practice, it was pegged to the U.S. dollar at a fixed parity. Since then, in line with commitments agreed with other GCC countries (Chapter II(4)(ii)(a)), including toward the adoption of a common currency (currently planned for 2010), the UAE dirham has become officially pegged to the U.S. dollar. The mid-point between the official buying and selling rates for the dirham has been Dh 3.6725 per US$1 since November 1997. The UAE's exchange system is free of restrictions on payments and transfers for international transactions, except for certain restrictions under terrorist financing provisions that have been taken in accordance with UN resolutions. The UAE accepted the obligations under Article VIII of the IMF Statutes on 13 February 1974.
8. The UAE's external debt (owed by the private sector only) is currently 12.5% of GDP (US$16 billion), down from over 25% in 2000-01. Government (domestic) debt is about 8.5% of GDP.
Box I.1: UAE "emiratization" policy
The emiratization policy was introduced in 1998 by the National Human Resource Development and Employment Authority (Tanmia). This policy aims to increase the number of nationals employed in private sector activities. The targeted sectors were selected based on two principal criteria: the economic health of the industry and its importance to the country; and the availability of skilled jobs where good working conditions exist for nationals.
In 1998, Cabinet Decree No. 10 was introduced requiring all banks, including foreign bank branches, to achieve 4% annual increases in their number of UAE staff from 1 January 1999. According to the authorities, banks have since made noticeable progress in recruiting UAE nationals, although not as many as required by the quota. In general, about half of the UAE jobseekers registered with Tanmia (foreigners cannot register) that subsequently secured jobs in the private sector were recruited by the banking sector.
In 2001, the Government recommended that 5% of the employees of all insurance companies, including foreign companies, should be UAE nationals, and that the number of nationals employees should increase annually by 2%. This was made mandatory in 2003 by a Cabinet Resolution requiring an increase of 5% instead of 2%. According to the authorities, since the respective quotas were introduced, insurance companies have been mainly unable to increase the share of nationals in their staff.
In 2004, a Council of Ministers' resolution imposed a requirement that 2% of staff of "trade sector firms" that employ more than 50 workers be nationals. Trade sector firms generally include companies involved in trading and repair of goods, including motor vehicles. It is too early to draw conclusions on the implementation of this measure in the trade sector. In February 2005, the newspaper Gulf News reported that Tanmia was preparing a list of companies that did not meet the ratio requirement for the hiring of UAE nationals; it was announced that legal action would be taken against these companies.
Tanmia also offers training programmes for nationals to ensure that they have adequate skills to be hired by the private sector. In addition, the authorities of certain emirates have also developed programmes to encourage entrepreneurship among nationals through the creation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These programmes offer a simplified application process, low interest rates, and favourable repayment terms.
Source: Information provided by the authorities.
(2) RECENT ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENTS
9. The UAE has grown from a small fishing and pearling nation (before its first export of oil in 1962), into one of the strongest and fastest-growing economies in the world. The tremendous industrialization effort undertaken since 1980 took place first in energy-intensive industries, on the basis of the UAE's comparative advantage, and subsequently in high-technology industries, such as office and consumer electronics or medical equipment. The country was also the first in the region to strategically develop both airport and seaport facilities in the 1960s, and since then has continuously recorded strong expansion in transport services to become the region's main transport hub. In addition, important public investment has been made to develop tourism, including sports facilities, leisure parks, and centers for international conferences and events; Dubai has made a bid to host the 2016 Olympic games.
10. Since 1999, the UAE's lowest economic growth has been 1.7% (in 2001) (Table I.2). This performance has been supported by windfall revenue from the doubling of oil and gas prices between 1998 and 2001, and again between 2001 and 2005; the revenue has financed activities in, inter alia, manufacturing, construction, and financial services. Inflationary pressures have been mounting since 2000, reflecting soaring domestic demand (as oil proceeds have been increasingly reinvested locally) and increased capital inflows. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is estimated to have increased by 4.6% in 2004 with a large rise in rents in particular (36% of the CPI's basket); a larger increase is predicted for 2005.
Main economic indicators, 1999-05
1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004a 2005a
National accounts (annual % change in real terms)
GDP 4.4 12.4 1.7 2.6 11.6 7.8 7.3
Agriculture and fishing 17.9 18.9 -2.2 0.8 0.3 9.7 ..
Mining and quarrying 4.1 3.9 2.9 2.3 2.8 7.0 ..
Crude oil production -4.5 13.1 0.0 -7.6 13.6 2.9 7.0
Manufacturing 8.9 30.4 0.9 3.5 7.9 15.0 ..
Electricity, gas and water 5.8 5.7 4.9 1.0 18.1 11.0 ..
Construction 1.8 0.9 2.0 18.4 17.0 8.0 ..
Services 7.5 8.7 3.5 8.2 11.1 8.8 ..
Trade, restaurants, and hotels 4.0 3.4 1.2 17.3 17.3 6.2 ..
Transport and communications 9.9 14.3 6.1 7.1 7.8 10.1 ..
Finance, insurance 5.2 7.6 12.1 0.9 8.1 15.9 ..
Real estate 3.8 0.9 1.6 11.2 8.1 14.1 ..
Government services 11.1 13.4 3.1 -1.3 8.5 3.9 ..
Other services 6.0 7.2 7.0 22.7 9.9 4.8 ..
Imputed bank service charges -8.4 -14.9 22.9 7.9 1.2 11.5 ..
Final consumption 6.4 11.8 5.1 14.6 11.0 14.1 ..
Private consumption 7.9 12.3 5.3 19.7 11.3 16.8 ..
Government consumption 2.5 10.4 4.6 0.3 10.1 4.7 ..
Gross fixed capital formation 3.3 6.5 4.8 5.0 15.7 11.1 ..
Changes in stocks 7.8 7.2 4.2 2.8 2.8 15.0 ..
Exports of goods and non-factor services 9.3 34.1 -1.9 7.8 27.7 22.7 ..
Imports of goods and non-factor services -1.7 8.8 7.7 13.8 20.5 18.0 ..
Consumer prices (annual average) .. 1.4 2.8 2.9 3.1 4.6 6.0
Current account (% of GDP) 1.6 17.2 9.4 5.0 8.7 11.8 19.0
Central Bank reserves (US$ billion, net) 10.9 13.8 14.3 15.3 15.1 18.6 ..
In months of imports of goods and non-factor services 4.3 4.9 4.6 4.0 3.3 3.5 ..
Nominal exchange rate (Dh per US$) 3.7 3.7 3.7 3.7 3.7 3.7 ..
Nominal effective exchange rate (index 2000 = 100) 95.2 100.0 105.7 103.5 94.4 88.7 ..
Price of oil (US$/barrel, Dubai, annual average) 17.5 27.5 23.9 24.8 28.1 36.3 49
Consolidated government finance (US$ million - current prices, end of period)
Receipts 14,889 24,422 21,359 17,995 22,894 30,109 ..
Expenditure 20,569 22,476 26,020 23,585 24,932 25,428 ..
Of which: subsidies and transfers .. 3,877 5,481 4,386 3,096 3,362 ..
Balancec -5,680 1,947 -4,661 -5,590 -2,038 4,681 ..
Balance (as % of GDP)c -10.3 2.8 -6.7 -7.5 -2.3 4.5 ..
Non-hydrocarbon fiscal balance (as % of GDP)c -25.1 -20.4 -26.9 -22.3 -19.8 -14.7 ..
External debt (US$ million) 18.8 18.2 19.4 16.7 16.5 15.8 16.0
External debt (as a % of GDP) 34.0 25.8 27.9 22.3 18.7 15.1 12.5
Financial indicators (%)
Three-month interest rate .. .. 3.36 1.18 0.68 1.60 ..
Table I.2 (cont'd)
Business lending rate .. .. 8.06 6.82 5.59 5.87 ..
Money supply (M1), annual change 8.9 12.6 15.8 19.2 23.8 38.7 ..
Money supply and quasi-money (M2) 11.4 15.1 15.5 15.6 16.1 23.2 ..
.. Not available.
a Preliminary estimates.
b Negative sign indicates depreciation.
c Negative sign indicates deficit.
Source: IMF, Staff Report, various issues.
11. The consolidated budget frequently runs large deficits (Table I.2). However, in 2003 and 2004, the surge in hydrocarbon prices led to a rise in government revenue ; a large fiscal surplus was recorded in 2004, and was also expected in 2005. The non-hydrocarbon fiscal deficit varies between a fifth and a third of GDP (Table I.2). The authorities indicated that steps have been taken to reduce it by containing the growth of spending, and reducing producer subsidies and transfers. The measures include reductions in agriculture subsidies, and an increase in pump petrol prices by an average of 20% during 2005. The Emirate of Abu Dhabi has signalled its intention to turn increasingly to the private sector to shoulder the costs of water and electricity (Chapter IV(3)); this should help to reduce subsidies as these utilities are generally provided to the population at subsidized rates. A national value-added tax system is also being explored to increase public revenue. In April 2005, however, the authorities announced that salaries of federal employees and Abu Dhabi government employees would increase by 25% in the case of nationals, and 15% for non-nationals.
12. Monetary policy is conducted by the Central Bank of the UAE (CBU), which has authority over most financial institutions, except the recently created Dubai International Financial Centre. The thrust of Central Bank monetary policy is to accumulate substantial reserves with a view to maintaining the currency's peg to the dollar. The main instruments to regulate domestic liquidity are the CBU's certificates of deposit of up to 18 months maturity and the reserve requirements. Domestic interest rates have largely moved in tandem with U.S. rates. In 2003-04, the monetary environment was that of high levels of liquidity and low interest rates, reflecting the international environment as well as the large inflow of resources related to the oil boom and to the strongly growing economic activity. The three-month inter-bank rate for the UAE dirham declined to 0.7% in 2003 before rising again to 1.6% in 2004. Real interest rates have been negative since 2002. The broad money stock has been increasing rapidly, well above the rate of GDP growth (Table I.2). The rise reflects rapidly increasing bank credit to the private sector and to state-owned enterprises.
(3) TRADE PERFORMANCE AND INVESTMENT
13. The UAE is a trading nation, as witnessed by its high ratio of imports plus exports (of goods and services) to GDP, i.e. around 145%. The UAE is also an important participant in global capital markets through several investment institutions, including its official Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, DP World, Dubai Holdings, and Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Investment Company. Its current account has been in surplus since independence in 1971, despite large current transfers by expatriate workers and the permanent deficit of the services account, the UAE remains a net services importer. This surplus has increased strongly since 2002, as a result of a surge in merchandise exports (in line with rising oil prices), to nearly 12% of GDP in 2004 (Table I.2).
14. The trade balance is traditionally in strong surplus, reaching US$28.1 billion in 2004 (with an estimated US$40 billion in 2005) (Table I.3). The main source of export revenue is crude oil and condensates (Table AI.1). Exports of petroleum products have tripled since 2000 to an estimated US$5 billion in 2005, while gas exports have more than doubled in value. The second largest source of revenue is re-exports (around one third of total merchandise exports). This reflects the importance of the UAE as a centre for re-exports, mainly to India, Iran, and Iraq. A substantial portion of the large recent increase in re-exports reflects the role of the country's ports in the supply of merchandise for the reconstruction of Iraq.
15. Nearly 60% of non-hydrocarbon exports originate in free zones, mainly the Dubai Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (Jafza); the main products exported from Jafza consist of machinery and appliances, including computers and other consumer electronics. The main non-hydrocarbon exports from outside the free zones are clothing, tobacco products, and aluminium.
16. Exports of crude oil are directed mainly to Japan; Chinese Taipei; and other East-Asian countries (Table AI.2). Non-oil exports are mainly shipped to India (30% of non-oil merchandise exports), to Arab countries (23%), and to Europe (11.5%). Re-exports are destined to Iran and India (17% each), and GCC countries (11%).
17. Imports are diversified in terms of products and origin. The main imports are machinery and transport equipment, food, and chemicals (Table AI.3). The main suppliers are India, China, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Germany (Table AI.4).
18. It is likely that foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows have advanced rapidly since 2000, though official statistical data are not available. The IMF estimates that net FDI inflows reached about US$11 billion in 2005. Leading sectors attracting FDI appear to be oil and gas field machinery and services, power and water, computers, medical equipment, telecommunications, and franchising. The bulk of FDI has been directed into real estate projects, and into the free zones (Chapter III(3)). Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai in particular has a total estimated annual revenue of over US$8.5 billion. The bulk of the companies in Jebel Ali are active in the assembly of electronic products, light engineering and manufacturing, as well as in distribution services benefiting from low costs, efficiency enhancing infrastructure, and logistics services.
19. According to UNCTAD, 156 greenfield investments were made in the UAE in 2004. A factor contributing to the expansion of inward FDI may have been the liberalization of the real estate subsector in Dubai, and the resulting investment boom both in housing and in development projects such as Dubai Internet City, Knowledge Village, Silicon Oasis, Dubai International Financial Centre and others. Outward FDI flows have also been large recently, as a result of acquisitions abroad by Dubai Ports International and its successor DP World (in port services), by Etisalat (in telecommunications), by Dubai Islamic bank (in banking), and by other state owned enterprises.
Balance of payments, 2000-05
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004a 2005b
Trade balance 18.8 14.0 14.9 21.5 28.1 40.4
Exports 49.6 47.5 52.5 67.3 82.3 103.4
Oil and its by-products 23.4 19.7 20.3 25.8 33.3 46.5
Crude oil and condensates 21.7 17.6 16.6 22.1 29.6 41.5
Petroleum productsc 1.7 2.1 3.6 3.8 3.7 5.0
Gas 3.7 3.3 3.3 3.9 4.7 6.9
Non-hydrocarbon 7.5 8.5 10.6 14.1 16.6 18.3
Exports by emirates 2.0 2.0 2.4 2.9 3.5 3.9
Free-zones exports 5.5 6.4 8.3 11.3 13.1 14.5
Re-exportsd 15.0 16.0 18.3 23.4 27.7 31.7
Non-monetary gold 1.9 1.9 1.9 2.0 2.3 2.3
Imports -30.8 -33.5 -37.5 -45.8 -54.2 -63.0
Imports by emirates -25.9 -26.8 -29.4 -35.4 -42.1 -48.7
Free zones -4.9 -6.7 -8.1 -10.4 -12.1 -14.3
Incomes, net 3.8 2.9 0.8 -0.1 0.1 3.6
Banking system 1.6 1.0 0.5 0.4 0.6 1.5
Private non-banks 0.4 0.3 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1
Government 4.0 3.0 2.2 1.9 3.8 5.7
Foreign partners- oile -1.9 -1.1 -1.9 -2.3 -4.1 -3.3
Foreign partners- gase -0.3 -0.2 -0.2 -0.2 -0.4 -0.4
Services, net -6.4 -6.2 -7.7 -9.1 -10.8 -13.0
Credits 2.2 2.4 2.6 2.8 3.0 3.1
Travel 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.6 ..
Transport 0.8 0.8 0.9 0.9 1.0 ..
Government services 0.3 0.4 0.4 0.4 0.5 ..
Debits -8.6 -8.5 -10.3 -11.8 -13.8 -16.1
Travel -3.0 -3.0 -3.7 -4.0 -4.5 ..
Transport -1.1 -1.1 -1.2 -1.2 -1.5 ..
Government services -0.3 -0.3 -0.4 -0.4 -0.4 ..
Freightf -4.2 -4.0 -5.1 -6.2 -7.4 ..
Transfers, net -4.0 -4.2 -4.4 -4.7 -5.1 -6.5
Private -3.7 -3.9 -4.1 -4.4 -4.6 -6.1
Official -0.3 -0.3 -0.3 -0.3 -0.4 -0.4
Current account 12.2 6.5 3.8 7.7 12.3 24.5
Financial account -9.7 -4.1 -7.3 -7.8 -10.9 -22.4
Private capital -3.8 -3.9 -1.9 3.9 7.7 6.6
Direct investment, netg -1.6 0.7 3.1 3.3 9.0 10.3
Outward -2.1 -0.4 -0.4 -1.0 -1.0 -1.0
Inward 0.5 1.2 3.5 4.3 10.0 11.3
Portfolio securities 0.0 0.0 0.2 0.0 2.0 1.5
Commercial banks -3.2 -2.5 -6.9 -1.1 -5.5 -4.4
Private non-banks 1.0 -2.1 1.7 1.7 2.2 -0.8
Official capitalh -5.9 -0.2 -5.4 -11.7 -18.6 -29.0
Errors and omissions 0.4 -2.0 4.7 -0.1 2.1 0.8
Overall balance 2.8 0.5 1.1 -0.2 3.5 2.9
.. Not available.
c Includes fertilizers and lubricants.
d Not formally compiled; estimated at 40-50% of emirates' imports.
e IMF staff estimates based on foreign partner share of oil and gas sector net profits.
f Estimated freight to adjust imports from f.o.b. to c.i.f. basis.
g UNCTAD direct investment estimates (World Investment Report).
h Includes changes in government external assets.
Source: IMF (2005), Article IV Consultation – United Arab Emirates, Staff Report, Washington D.C.
20. The financial account registers large net outflows, reflecting the regular placements of official capital abroad. Most of this capital is managed by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), one of the world's largest government financial investment vehicles. ADIA is responsible for investing all of the Abu Dhabi Government's oil revenues and assets worldwide. ADIA has undisclosed investments generally estimated at about US$250 billion, and is one of the most influential operators in international financial markets. It is reported that its assets abroad increased by US$29 billion in 2005.
21. The outlook for the UAE economy is naturally sensitive to assumptions about the evolution of oil markets, including both oil prices and OPEC-mandated oil production quotas. Based on current forecasts of a strong demand for energy products worldwide, and on an oil price projection of US$46 per barrel on average over 2006-10, the IMF forecasts annual real GDP growth of about 4.5% over this period; large fiscal and external current account surpluses are projected to persist. Non-hydrocarbon GDP growth is also expected to remain strong, supported mainly by large public investments in the tourism, transport, and construction subsectors.
22. The UAE's large official assets accumulated abroad since the 1980 provide a sizeable and steady flow of income that could dampen the negative effects of a weakening of oil prices, and thus reduce the economy's vulnerability to oil markets. Growth should also be supported by the numerous new projects coming on-stream. However, the UAE's long-term success in attracting foreign investment will require improved ownership rights for foreigners and a more efficient legal and institutional framework within which claims relating to foreign investment can be effectively addressed.
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