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US-Saudi trade relationship in rude health

The Saudi's love of an American car shows no sign of stalling Creative Commons
The Saudi's love of an American car shows no sign of stalling

The US-Saudi trade relationship rebounded from the pandemic lows of 2020 to posting record high exchanges of non-oil and non-defence goods last year as vehicles and vaccines boosted American imports into the kingdom.

According to data from the US-Saudi Business Council, total trade volume amounted to SR92.5 billion ($24.7 billion) during 2021, rising 22 percent from 2020. 

US exports to Saudi Arabia totalled $11.1 billion, up 0.3 percent: sales of key defence-related segments declined while electronics, industrial goods, motor vehicles and pharmaceuticals expanded.

Total Saudi exports reached $13.5 billion, rising sharply from 2020’s $9 billion. 

Saudi non-oil exports to the US totalled $2.4 billion, up 71 percent. According to Albara’a Alwazir, director of economic research at the US-Saudi Business Council, this marked the highest annual level of non-oil exports from Saudi Arabia to the US on record. 

Eight of the top 10 categories saw growth amid increasing industrial and manufacturing activity in the kingdom. Fertilisers accounted for $688 million or 29 percent of non-oil exports from Saudi to the US. 

Organic chemicals were next, worth $505 million or 21 percent of the total, having more than doubled since 2020. The growth of metal and mining exports from Saudi Arabia also continued in 2021 as aluminium bounced back from a small dip in 2020 to set a record high.

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Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s demand for US-made vehicles saw exports to the kingdom worth $1.9 billion, up 16 percent on the previous year. Approximately 75 percent were passenger vehicles while the remaining 25 percent was comprised of motorised military vehicles, tractors, trailers and other related parts. 

Pharmaceutical exports from the US rose sharply from three percent of the total in 2020 to 12 percent last year. Of the total $740 million, vaccines related to the global coronavirus pandemic were the primary driver of the increased volume of trade.

Oil exports to the US rose 46 percent from $7.6 billion to $11.1 billion after recording the lowest US-destined crude exports since 1985 amid the 2020 Covid-19 demand shock. 

As US oil demand recovered in 2021, imports of Saudi crude rose 46 percent but remained eight percent below 2019 levels. 

Saudi oil exports to the US started last year lower, totalling just $362 million in January, but rose steadily as US demand picked up due to relaxed pandemic restrictions and greater consumption by the transportation and industrial sectors.

“The US-Saudi trade relationship has endured decades of strong economic ties that have continued to grow beyond oil and defence-related exchanges,” Alwazir said.

“Saudi non-oil exports to the US reached the highest annual level on record as efforts to stimulate Saudi Arabia’s diversification plans have started to show signs of progress.”

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He said the kingdom launched several notable development programs in 2021 including the Made in Saudi initiative aimed at supporting national products and boosting exports of Saudi-made goods.

New programs such as the National Investment Strategy (NIS) and the Shareek program are also aimed at driving private sector development in industries with high export opportunities such as petrochemicals, industrial, mining and manufacturing. 

“Growing exports of more complex petroleum downstream products such as polypropylene fabrics and basic metal manufactures like aluminium plates are a promising sign that these economic development plans are bearing fruit,” he added.

According to Alwazir, amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and uncertainty surrounding Russia’s oil exports, the kingdom is poised to be a key oil and gas supplier for the US and other developed countries in the year ahead.

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  1. Texas 
    The state exported $1.9 billion in merchandise which supported an estimated 9,230 jobs. Texas exports to Saudi declined three percent year-on-year but overall trade volume remained the highest of any US state. Its top export product was passenger vehicles which totalled $510 million.
  2. Maryland 
    Exports to Saudi Arabia grew 69 percent compared to 2020, reaching $1.1 billion and supported an estimated 5,306 jobs. Maryland’s growth as an export partner with Saudi Arabia in 2021 primarily reflected defence-related spending with spacecraft and launch vehicles totalling $782 million.
  3. California 
    Total exports to Saudi Arabia reached $663 million in 2021. These were highly diversified compared to other top states and supported an estimated 3,185 jobs. California’s top export was fresh and dried nuts, totalling $96 million. California’s exports accounted for six[=] percent of total US exports.
  4. North Carolina 
    The state dropped two places to fourth in 2021 after exporting $615 million in goods to Saudi Arabia, supporting an estimated 2,954 jobs. North Carolina was once again a top exporter of defence-related goods.
  5. Louisiana 
    This state saw sizeable gains in both imported and exported goods with Saudi Arabia in 2021. Louisiana exported goods worth $592 million that supported an estimated 2,841 jobs. Exports grew 71 percent with corn the most in-demand product.
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  1. Louisiana 
    The state imported $506 million in fertilisers, primarily diammonium hydrogenorthophosphate, urea, and ammonium dihydrogenothophosphate. Other notable imports from Saudi Arabia included organic chemicals and rubber.
  2. Indiana 
    Total imports reached $265 million from Saudi Arabia and were dominated by aluminium goods which were valued at $258 million, more than 97 percent of the total. 
  3. Texas 
    The state imported $4.8 billion in goods from Saudi Arabia of which 95 percent was crude oil. However, Texas still ranked as the third largest importer of non-oil goods, accounting for $246 million, topped by organic chemicals, iron and steel.
  4. North Carolina 
    The state’s imports were dominated by organic chemicals, valued at $161 million, which accounted for 89 percent of goods imported from Saudi Arabia last year. 
  5. Georgia 
    The state imported $129 million from Saudi Arabia, of which only six percent was crude oil. Georgia’s top import from the kingdom was manmade filaments including yarns and woven fabrics which totalled $75 million.
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It’s about more than only oil

The trade relationship has been developing since full diplomatic relations were established in 1931.

According to the US, the countries also enjoy robust cultural and educational ties with tens of thousands of Saudi students studying in US colleges and universities and scores of educational and cultural exchange visitors each year. The US also provides promising youth and emerging Saudi leaders the opportunity to experience the country and its institutions through the International Visitor Leadership Program.

Saudi Arabia is the largest foreign military sales customer of the US, with more than $100 billion in active cases, and supports the Ministry of Defence, the National Guard and the Ministry of Interior. 

The US is Saudi Arabia’s second largest trading partner and Saudi Arabia is one of the US’s largest trading partners in the Middle East as well as its third leading source of imported oil, providing about half a million barrels per day of oil to the US market.

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