UAE's non-oil foreign trade hit record $953bn in 2023

Deals with the country’s top 10 overseas trading partners also grew 26%

The UAE's non-oil foreign trade reached a record Dh3.5 trillion last year. Photo: DP World
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The UAE's non-oil foreign trade hit a record Dh3.5 trillion ($953 billion) in 2023, bolstered by its economic diversification plans despite a decline in the international movement of goods and services.

The country's trade with its top 10 most important foreign partners grew 26 per cent last year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said on social media platform X on Sunday.

"We indicated at the beginning of 2023 that it will be a record year for the economy ... and the UAE has cemented new bridges of co-operation through comprehensive partnership agreements in 2023," he said.

"The UAE today is at the heart of the global trade flow and its economic commitments with everyone continue. Our motto will always be that we say what we do and do what we say."

The Arab world's second-largest economy has signed a series of comprehensive economic partnership agreements (Cepas) with countries such as India, Turkey and Indonesia.

The UAE, a global transport and logistics hub, is working towards signing 26 Cepas as it seeks to attract more investment and diversify its economy.

The country's non-oil foreign trade of Dh3.5 trillion last year compares with Dh2.23 trillion in 2022, amid accelerated efforts to reduce its dependence on hydrocarbons and boost economic partnerships around the world.

The UAE is "on course" to achieve its non-oil trade target of Dh4 trillion by 2031, driven by policies such as the signing of Cepas, Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of State for Foreign Trade, said in August.

In total, the value of the UAE's non-oil foreign trade with Cepa partners, both those implemented and those nearing conclusion, exceeded Dh390.5 billion, up 24.5 per cent compared to 2022, Dr Al Zeyoudi said in a statement on Sunday.

"The expansion of foreign trade is a pillar of the UAE’s economic strategy, a driving force of growth and diversification and a catalyst for sectors that focus on innovation, knowledge and advanced technology," he said.

The UAE's non-oil trade last year comprised Dh2.6 trillion in goods and Dh900 billion in services, reflecting the "resilience and dynamism" of its economy, Dr Al Zeyoudi said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday.

Its non-oil goods trade grew 12.6 per cent year-on-year, while overall exports of goods and services exceeded the Dh1 trillion mark in 2023 for the first time, he said.

This milestone "confirms that economic diversification plans are moving in the right direction towards a future economy based on knowledge and innovation, and reflects the increasing international trust in the UAE's economy and its move towards more openness to the world in terms of trade and investment," the minister said.

Non-oil exports of goods now make up 17.1 per cent of the country's total non-oil foreign trade, compared with 13 per cent in 2018, Dr Al Zeyoudi said.

Top trading partners

China retained its status as the UAE’s leading trading partner, followed by India, the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the UAE government media office said in a statement on Sunday. Rounding off the top 10 were Iraq, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Japan and Oman.

The UAE's non-oil trade with Turkey, which contributed 5.1 per cent to the total, grew by 103.7 per cent year-on-year in 2023, the highest among the top 10 trading partners. This came after the two countries in September implemented a Cepa.

The UAE's trade with Hong Kong last year grew 47.9 per cent, ranking it eighth among the UAE’s top 10 trading partners, while trade with the US rose 20.1 per cent, and with China 4.2 per cent.

Trade with India, which signed a Cepa with the UAE in May 2022, grew by 3.9 per cent, accounting for more than 7.6 per cent of the total trade.

Non-oil exports

The UAE's non-oil trade with the world was buoyed by a continued increase in its non-oil exports.

The value of non-oil exports exceeded Dh441 billion, up 16.7 per cent in 2023 compared to 2022.

Gold, aluminium, oils, cigarettes, jewellery, copper wire and ethylene polymers topped the list of the country's most important exports of goods.

Similarly, the UAE's re-exports also increased last year to Dh690 billion, up 6.9 per cent from the year before.

UAE imports in 2023 rose 14.2 per cent year-on-year to Dh1.4 trillion.

The top goods imported were gold, telephones, petroleum oils, cars and diamonds.

Travel lifts trade in services

The UAE's services trade surplus grew to Dh207 billion in 2023, up from Dh96.26 billion in 2021, lifted by the travel and tourism industry, the statement said.

Dubai, the Middle East's travel hub, recorded its best annual tourism performance, with international tourist arrivals to the emirate increasing by 19.4 per cent annually to 17.15 million in 2023, according to the latest data published by Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism. This exceeded the previous record of 16.73 million visitors in 2019.

Other key sectors contributing to the UAE's trade services growth included ICT, professional and financial services, education, medical tourism, Islamic financial services, logistics and creatives.

Trade in services reached Dh967 billion, of which Dh587 billion was in services exports, according to the minister.

"This is an important area of opportunity for the UAE – and one on which we will focus in the years ahead to drive more growth," Dr Al Zeyoudi said in a statement.

The quarterly performance of the UAE's non-oil trade "promises further growth", the government statement said.

In the fourth quarter, the UAE’s non-oil foreign trade of goods reached a record Dh710 billion, up 16.3 per cent year-on-year. Non-oil exports of goods in last quarter of 2023 amounted to Dh132.2 billion, a 39.3 per cent rise from the previous year.

Last month, the UAE Central Bank increased its 2024 growth forecast for the country's economy to 5.7 per cent from its earlier estimate of 4.3 per cent, due to an expected rise in oil production.

The banking regulator also raised the UAE's non-oil gross domestic product growth to 5.9 per cent and 4.7 per cent, for 2023 and 2024, respectively.

Updated: February 18, 2024, 2:21 PM