Africa and the Middle East

While many Wisconsin businesspeople are intimidated by the challenges presented by markets in the Middle East and Africa, a number of countries across this expansive region offer 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 in the world and also some of the wealthiest. Demand is strong for infrastructure supplies and equipment; basic and cutting-edge health care devices; energy generation and distribution equipment; information technology; manufacturing equipment; and mining, agriculture, and food processing machinery.

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 in Africa, 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 (GCC): Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman. These countries are working to diversify their economies away from petroleum and natural gas extraction. Public infrastructure megaprojects, especially in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, are expected to spur strong expansions in the tourism, transportation, construction, and wholesale/retail sectors.

Priority Markets for Wisconsin Exporters

South Africa


South Africa is a middle-income emerging market with an abundant supply of natural resources; well-developed financial, legal, communications, energy, and transport 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.

South Africa is the economic powerhouse on the African continent and provides a gateway to southern African markets. 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 hosts one of the strongest financial systems in the world and has a rich cultural heritage, a growing middle class, strong rule of law, and substantial infrastructure that will promote strong economic growth for the future. 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, 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 healthcare are further areas where Wisconsin companies can pursue positive opportunities of improvement and advancement. The South Africa based office serves over 23 countries in southern and eastern Africa, and has regional sub-offices in Tanzania and Mauritius, offering a vast geographic coverage to Wisconsin exporters.

Market Statistics

Population: 58 million (10x the size of Wisconsin)
Area: 1.2 million km(7x the size of Wisconsin)
GDP: $350 billion
2022 Wisconsin exports: $178 million
Wisconsin export rank: 21
2021 Wisconsin imports: $29 million
Key Industries: Energy, ports and marine, aviation, rail infrastructure, environmental technology, mining equipment, agribusiness, medical devices and pharmaceuticals, automotive, green building technologies, travel and tourism, information technology, franchising, education

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United Arab Emirates


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 next year should help the sector recover. After more than three years of an embargo against trade and travel links with Qatar, normal relations among the Gulf states has been resumed.

The UAE is a strategic hub, with business-friendly free zones. The UAE has developed a leading role in business services (including finance) and has effectively created a logistics hub between East and West. It is home to the busiest man-made port and two of the fastest-growing airlines in the world. With an ambition to become a diversified regional economic hub, the UAE is undertaking a carefully planned expansion, including noteworthy projects in tourism, urban development, alternative energy, aerospace, and composites manufacturing.

The UAE’s efflorts to diversify its economy creates opportunities for Wisconsin companies dealing in aerospace manufacturing; life sciences; water technology; energy; and food and beverage exports.

Market Statistics

Population: 10 million (2x the size of Wisconsin)
Area: 80,000 km2 (Half the size of Wisconsin)
GDP: $421 billion
2022 Wisconsin exports: $147 million
Wisconsin export rank: 27
2021 Wisconsin imports: $23 million
Key Industries: Architecture, construction and engineering; aerospace; automotive; aviation; conventional power; defense; education; health care services; information and telecommunications; nuclear power; oil and gas field machinery and services; renewable energy; safety and security; water

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