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flag Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia: Economic and Political Outline

In this page: Economic Indicators | Foreign Trade in Figures | Sources of General Economic Information | Political Outline


Economic Indicators

Saudi Arabia is the largest economy in the Middle East and the richest Arab country. The economy of Saudi Arabia is entirely based on oil. The policy of large-scale public works undertaken by the government, as well as foreign direct investment and the soundness of the banking and financial system have enabled the country to become the number one regional economy and one of the largest in the world. After registering a growth of 3.6% in 2013 thanks to a drop in the global oil production, growth should consolidate in 2014, benefiting from expansionist fiscal policy, rising investment and the country's oil revenues.

In 2013, the government continued with its five-year investment programme, which was adopetd in 2011, implementing a policy of labor market "saudisation" while simultaneously fighting against illegal immigration. Riots were triggered by expulsions carried out by the police and the construction and catering sectors were affected by these measures. The government faces the challenge of how to reorient the Saudi unemployed towards low-skilled jobs vacancies which they are unwilling to take. The government has also pursued the development of the oil and gas industry while trying to diversify the economy and develop manufacturing, services, as well as stimulate the private sector. For 2014, the country has adopted a record new budget of $228 billion. Its focus will be on education and healthcare, which account for 38% of the overall spending, as well as infrastructure projects. As opposed to the previous two budgets, the budget for 2014 now includes measures to return to a fiscal equilibrium instead of creating a surplus. Although these social and economic measures are very much needed, the political status quo is the source of a growing discontent among the population.

The standard of living is one of the highest in the region with over USD 20,000 GDP/inhabitant. The country is still marked by an unemployment rate of about 12%, which concerns especially young people, and a high degree of social inequality.

Main Indicators 20112012201320142015 (e)
GDP (billions USD) 669.51733.96748.45777.87e805.23
GDP (Constant Prices, Annual % Change)
GDP per Capita (USD) 23,594e25,139e2425,40125,778
General Government Gross Debt (in % of GDP)
Inflation Rate (%)
Unemployment Rate (% of the Labor Force)
Current Account (billions USD) 158.58164.76132.64117.32e100.08
Current Account (in % of GDP) 23.722.417.7e15.1e12.4

Source: IMF - World Economic Outlook Database , Last Available Data

Note: (e) Estimated Data

Main Sectors of Industry

Agriculture accounts for 2.5% of the GDP and employs 4% of the active population. It is not a very productive sector despite the huge state investments. Saudi Arabia imports most of its agricultural and food product requirements because of the geographical and climatic constraints (droughts). Water scarcity is a serious regional problem that the country is likely to face in the coming years, as growing cultivation of wheat presents a strong threat of water depletion. The industrial sector represents around 60% of the GDP. It is dominated by non-manufacturing activities (oil drilling). The country has the largest oil reserves in the world and is also the largest producer and exporter of oil in the world. Oil accounts for more than 90% of exports and nearly 80% of government revenues. The share of non-oil industrial sector is now growing because of the investments of the Saudi state for economic diversification.

Lastly, services represent nearly 38% of the GDP. This sector is mainly dominated by tourism, financial and insurance services and the banking sector. Tourism generates very large revenues (almost 4 millions of tourists per year), exclusively thanks to the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Breakdown of Economic Activity By Sector Agriculture Industry Services
Employment By Sector (in % of Total Employment) 4.7 24.7 70.7
Value Added (in % of GDP) 1.8 60.6 37.6
Value Added (Annual % Change) 0.7 2.5 5.3

Source: World Bank - Last Available Data.

Monetary Indicators 20092010201120122013
Saudi Riyal (SAR) - Average Annual Exchange Rate For 1 USD 3.753.753.753.753.75

Source: World Bank - Last Available Data.


Learn more about Market Analyses about Saudi Arabia on, the Directory for International Trade Service Providers.

Indicator of Economic Freedom


The Economic freedom index measure ten components of economic freedom, grouped into four broad categories or pillars of economic freedom: Rule of Law (property rights, freedom from corruption); Limited Government (fiscal freedom, government spending); Regulatory Efficiency (business freedom, labor freedom, monetary freedom); and Open Markets (trade freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom). Each of the freedoms within these four broad categories is individually scored on a scale of 0 to 100. A country’s overall economic freedom score is a simple average of its scores on the 10 individual freedoms.

Moderately Free
World Rank:
Regional Rank:

Distribution of Economic freedom in the world
Source: 2014 Index of Economic freedom, Heritage Foundation


Business environment ranking


The business rankings model measures the quality or attractiveness of the business environment in the 82 countries covered by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Country Forecast reports. It examines ten separate criteria or categories, covering the political environment, the macroeconomic environment, market opportunities, policy towards free enterprise and competition, policy towards foreign investment, foreign trade and exchange controls, taxes, financing, the labour market and infrastructure.

World Rank:

Source: The Economist - Business Environment Rankings 2014-2018


Country Risk

See the country risk analysis provided by Coface.


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Foreign Trade in Figures

Saudi Arabia is world's 15th largest exporter and foreign trade represents over 80% of its GDP (average for 2010-2012). The country's trade balance, although structurally in surplus, fluctuates according to the price of oil and the global demand. In 201e, the trade surplus diminished slightly due to a rise in imports and a reduction in oil revenues.

Saudi Arabia's main export partners are the United States, China and Japan, followed by Germany and U.A.E., as well as the Southeast Asian countries. The country exports mainly crude oil (the black gold represents 90% of its exports), plastics, organic products and chemicals.

Its main import partners are the United States, Japan, China and South Korea, followed by other Asian countries (India, Taiwan and Singapore). Saudi Arabia mainly imports vehicles, machinery, electrical equipment, iron, steel and food products.

In order to promote international trade, attract foreign investment and diversify the non-oil sectors, the government has announced plans to establish four "economic cities" in different regions of the country.

Foreign Trade Indicators 20092010201120122013
Imports of Goods (million USD) 95,552106,863131,655155,593163,892
Exports of Goods (million USD) 192,314251,143364,735388,370376,000
Imports of Services (million USD) 47,03950,99654,95449,88950,166
Exports of Services (million USD) 9,42810,35111,11610,57511,752
Imports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) -
Exports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) -
Imports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 37.833.129.629.330.6
Exports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 47.149.756.254.451.8
Trade Balance (million USD) 105,230153,712244,775246,570222,714
Trade Balance (Including Service) (million USD) 39,98887,628178,247184,213157,743
Foreign Trade (in % of GDP) 84.982.885.883.782.4

Source: WTO - World Trade Organization ; World Bank , Last Available Data


Main Partner Countries

Main Customers
(% of Exports)
China 2.0%
United Arab Emirates 1.7%
Singapore 0.9%
India 0.7%
Jordan 0.5%
See More Countries 94.2%
Main Suppliers
(% of Imports)
United States 13.2%
China 12.8%
Germany 7.2%
South Korea 5.8%
Japan 5.7%
See More Countries 55.3%

Source: Comtrade, Last Available Data


Main Products

- bn USD of products exported in 2013
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 78.3%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals (excl. crude); preparations containing >= 70% by weight of petroleum oils or of oils obtained from bituminous minerals, these oils being the basic constituents of the preparations, n.e.s.; waste oils containing mainly petroleum or bituminous minerals 5.1%
Polymers of ethylene, in primary formsPolymers of ethylene, in primary forms 2.5%
Petroleum gas and other gaseous hydrocarbonsPetroleum gas and other gaseous hydrocarbons 2.1%
Polymers of propylene or of other olefins, in...Polymers of propylene or of other olefins, in primary forms 1.5%
See More Products 10.5%
- bn USD of products imported in 2013
Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally...Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons, incl. station wagons and racing cars (excl. motor vehicles of heading 8702) 9.8%
Transmission apparatus for radio-telephony,...Transmission apparatus for radio-telephony, radio-telegraphy, radio-broadcasting or television, whether or not incorporating reception apparatus or sound recording or reproducing apparatus; television cameras; still image video cameras and other video camera recorders; digital cameras 3.7%
Gold, incl. gold plated with platinum, unwrought...Gold, incl. gold plated with platinum, unwrought or not further worked than semi-manufactured or in powder form 2.7%
Medicaments consisting of mixed or unmixed...Medicaments consisting of mixed or unmixed products for therapeutic or prophylactic uses, put up in measured doses incl. those in the form of transdermal administration or in forms or packings for retail sale (excl. goods of heading 3002, 3005 or 3006) 2.3%
Motor vehicles for the transport of goods, incl....Motor vehicles for the transport of goods, incl. chassis with engine and cab 2.2%
See More Products 79.2%

Source: Comtrade, Last Available Data

See More Products
More imports (Intracen Data)
More exports (Intracen Data)

Main Services

Source: Comtrade, Last Available Data

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Sources of General Economic Information

Ministry of Finance
Ministry of Economy and Planning
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources
Ministry of Commerce and Industry
Ministry of Agriculture and Water
Statistical Office
Central Department of Statistics and Information
Central Bank
The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA)

Stock Exchange
Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul)
Search Engines
Saudi info
Saudi on line
Economic Portals
Economy watch

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Political Outline

Executive Power
King is both the chief of the state and head of the government. The monarch is hereditary. Council of Ministers (cabinet) is appointed by the monarch and includes many royal family members. The Council of Ministers has both legislative and executive powers, subject to the King's approval.
Legislative Power
There is no elected legislature in Saudi Arabia. A Consultative Council was appointed in August 1993 which has 120 members and a chairman appointed by the King for four-year terms. This Council has limited powers and does not affect decision making or power structures in a meaningful way. The population of Saudia Arabia has limited political rights.
Main Political Parties
No political parties are allowed in Saudi Arabia. However, a party called Green Party of Saudi Arabia, which promotes the values of the worldwide Green movement, exists as an illegal organization. The first Saudi Arabian municipal elections were held in the year 2005.
Current Political Leaders
King and Prime Minister: Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (since January 2015) - hereditary.
Heir Apparent: Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud - half brother of the King.
Next Election Dates
None. The monarchy is hereditary

Indicator of Freedom of the Press


The world rankings, published annually, measures the violations of press freedom worldwide. It reflects the degree of freedom enjoyed by journalists, the media and digital citizens of each country and the means used by states to respect and uphold this freedom. Finally, a note and a position are assigned to each country. To compile this index, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) prepared a questionnaire sent to partner organizations,150 RWB correspondents, journalists, researchers, jurists and activists of human rights, including the main criteria - 44 in total - to assess the situation of press freedom in a given country. It includes every kind of direct attacks against journalists and digital citizens (murders, imprisonment, assault, threats, etc.) or against the media (censorship, confiscation, searches and harassment etc.).

World Rank:
1 place down compared to 2013

Source: Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2014, Reporters Without Borders


Indicator of Political Freedom


The Indicator of Political Freedom provides an annual evaluation of the state of freedom in a country as experienced by individuals. The survey measures freedom according to two broad categories: political rights and civil liberties. The ratings process is based on a checklist of 10 political rights questions (on Electoral Process, Political Pluralism and Participation, Functioning of Government) and 15 civil liberties questions (on Freedom of Expression, Belief, Associational and Organizational Rights, Rule of Law, Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights). Scores are awarded to each of these questions on a scale of 0 to 4, where a score of 0 represents the smallest degree and 4 the greatest degree of rights or liberties present. The total score awarded to the political rights and civil liberties checklist determines the political rights and civil liberties rating. Each rating of 1 through 7, with 1 representing the highest and 7 the lowest level of freedom, corresponds to a range of total scores.

Not Free
Political Freedom:

Map of freedom 2014
Source: Freedom House


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Last Updates: February 2015