While Wisconsin businesspeople may be intimidated by the cultural differences presented by markets in the Middle East and Africa, this expansive region offers significant opportunities to companies that do their research and approach key markets in a systematic fashion. Within this part of the world can be found some of the poorest countries and also some of the wealthiest, and their product and service needs vary accordingly. In the wealthier Arab nations, demand for digitalization, IoT, industry 4.0, artificial intelligence, and advanced information and communications technology solutions intersects with every industry. Meanwhile, the North African nations’ requirements are much more basic in infrastructure, health care, information and communications technology, energy generation and distribution equipment, manufacturing equipment, and machinery for mining, agriculture, and food processing.

Although no African countries rank among Wisconsin’s top 20 export destinations, the potential exists for significant growth as Africa’s economies and population continue to grow. The office of Wisconsin’s trade representative, based in South Africa, serves more than 30 countries across the continent, with regional staff in Malawi, Morocco, Mauritius, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe, offering vast geographic coverage to Wisconsin exporters. In the Middle East, Wisconsin has trade representation in the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman. These countries are escalating their economic diversification programs away from dependence on oil and gas production. Public infrastructure megaprojects, especially in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, are expected to spur strong growth in diverse sectors, including tourism, defense manufacturing, clean energy production, construction, smart services, health care, and education to prepare their workforce for an increasingly advanced digital future.

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South Africa is a middle-income emerging market with an abundant supply of natural resources; well-developed financial, legal, communications, energy, and transportation sectors; and a stock exchange that is Africa’s largest and among the top 20 in the world. The country has a large agricultural and food/beverage processing sector, an advanced aerospace and defense industry, and strong manufacturing capacity. Trade is important to South Africa’s economy, and the country serves as a gateway to much of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa; the value of exports and imports taken together equals 63% of GDP.

Wisconsin exporters have recognized this, as export growth to South Africa and Africa overall have grown 205% and 153%, respectively, since 2005, outpacing export growth to most markets (including China and India) by a wide margin. Access to regional markets is facilitated by South Africa’s membership in the Southern Africa Customs Union and the Southern Africa Development Community. It boasts one of the strongest financial systems in the world and has a rich cultural heritage, a growing middle class, strong rule of law, and developed infrastructure that will promote strong future economic growth. English is the business language across the region, making for ease of visiting and transactions.

South Africa has a dominant mining industry, a large agricultural and food/beverage processing sector, and an advanced aerospace and defense industry, as well as a strong manufacturing capacity. These sectors offer opportunities for advanced Wisconsin companies. The focus on renewable energy has increased, which provides a good platform for Wisconsin companies that can assist at the developmental stage. Education and health care are further areas where Wisconsin companies can pursue opportunities. Wisconsin’s South Africa-based trade office serves more than 23 countries in southern and eastern Africa, and has regional sub-offices in Tanzania and Mauritius, offering vast geographic coverage to Wisconsin exporters.


image with charts and numbers related to Wisconsin's import and export activity with South Africa


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has long been recognized as the commercial and business hub of the Middle East, and can be one of the easiest markets in the region for U.S. exporters to enter. The COVID-19 crisis hit the UAE hard in 2020, because of the shock of low oil prices and the huge toll it took on tourism. Events such as the Dubai Expo world fair, scheduled to run from October 2021 to March 2022, as well as the World Cup in Qatar, should aid recovery. After more than three years of an embargo against trade and travel links with Qatar, normal relations between the Gulf states have resumed.


image with charts and numbers related to Wisconsin's import and export activity with United Arab Emirates


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The views or opinions expressed here are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect those of WEDC. WEDC is not responsible for the contents nor does WEDC guarantee the accuracy, completeness, timeliness or reliability of this information.