Burj al-Arab hotel

Since independence in 1971, the United Arab Emirates has undergone a very rapid economic development, and is one of the world’s most prosperous countries – based on the revenues from oil exports. However, the petroleum deposits are unevenly distributed among the seven Sheikh empires, and it is above all Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which possess the largest oil deposits, which are the economic driving force of the United Arab Emirates, while the northern emirates are substantially less developed and receive financial support. from the others. Despite the fact that there is one state formation, the Sheikh tribes that make up the state have no coordinated economic policy.

Prior to the oil era, the emirates were little developed and dominated by pearl fishing, fishing, trade and dating of dates. Piracy was another industry. Oil was first detected outside Abu Dhabi in 1958, and exports increased in 1962 – laying the foundations for the unification of one state. The development since then is one of the fastest modernizing of any society ever, and the United Arab Emirates has one of the highest income levels in the world. used to expand industry and agriculture; industrial travel primarily to reduce dependence on the oil sector. The United Arab Emirates has come a long way in its ambition to reduce this dependency, also by establishing the country, with Dubai as its base, as a regional trade and international financial center. At the same time, efforts are being made to further develop tourism as an industry. Not least, Dubai has invested heavily in this sector, with a rapid expansion from the mid-1990s.

Economic developments have led to a great need for manpower, which is largely sourced from outside, both from other Arab countries, but even more from South Asia. At the end of the 1990s, approx. 90% of the workforce are foreigners, and work was done on legislation that would contribute to a higher proportion of national employment. From the end of the 1990s, Abu Dhabi in particular has set up a privatization program.

Burj al-Arab hotel

In Dubai is the spectacular Burj al-Arab hotel, the ‘Tower of the Arabs’. The hotel is 321 meters high, reminiscent of a dhow; a traditional Arab sailing ship.

Agriculture and fisheries

The United Arab Emirates consists largely of desert and salt deposits, and is unsuitable for agriculture. Traditionally, agriculture consisted of nomadic pastoralism, as well as some cultivation in the oases, above all dates. Through a strong political commitment, a more complex agriculture has been established, essential for the production of food for local consumption. of wheat, vegetables, milk and eggs. Water shortages are the main obstacle to agricultural expansion, and the harsh taxation of groundwater reserves associated with agricultural projects and forestry has led to a reduction in groundwater, and that seawater has seeped in and made several cultivated areas unusable for agricultural purposes. There are also signs of over-taxation of fish stocks.


Oil was discovered in Abu Dhabi in 1958, and was first exported in 1962. The petroleum sector has dominated the development of the United Arab Emirates, and especially since 1973, when oil prices rose rapidly. In 2001, the country had proven reserves of 98 billion barrels, corresponding to 9.3% of the world’s known reserves, of which approx. 94% are found in Abu Dhabi. At the same time, natural gas reserves were 6010 billion cubic meters, equivalent to 3.9% of the world’s known reserves. The production and export of oil and natural gas is not a federal matter, and the income directly accrues to the respective Sheikh judgments. Dubai is not a member of, nor does it follow, the production orders of the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which the federation as such is a member. Production varies in line with quotas from OPEC, and international fluctuations, and has been up for approx. 2.4 million barrels per day – during the Gulf crisis in 1990–91. The economic importance of the petroleum sector is great, but has been relatively reduced in recent years as other business avenues have succeeded. Crude oil accounted for a quarter of GDP in 1999.


With a start in the petroleum sector, major investments have been made in the industrial sector, especially in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to develop an economy that is less dependent on oil revenues. Dubai has managed to attract significant foreign investment to the manufacturing-oriented industry in a free zone, and the most important single company outside the oil sector is an aluminum plant in Dubai. Petrochemical industry is also established; the same is cement industry, steel rolling mills and some small industries. The majority of the heavy industry is located in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Refining of crude oil is the most important industrial activity, from several refineries, the first at Umm an Nar in Abu Dhabi in 1976; the second emirate, at Ruwais, opened in 1981. In 1998, the Habshan natural gas complex in Abu Dhabi was opened for better utilization of the gas resources.

Foreign Trade

Exports are dominated by oil and gas, the majority of which is exported to Japan and the Far East as well as Western Europe. Emirates’ largest imports come from the United States, Japan and China. In 1999, an agreement was signed to build a gas pipeline to link Qatar with Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Pakistan.

Transport and Communications

Dubai, with the new port of Port Rashid, and Abu Dhabi, are the premier port cities. International airports in Dubai, Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, Ras al-Khaimah and Sharjah. In recent years there has been considerable road development in the emirates. In 1985, Dubai established its own airline, Emirates Airlines.