Africa and Middle East

Although the African continent is home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world—Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Tanzania, Rwanda—political instability, corruption and conflict have hindered overall growth, and poverty persists in many areas. Still, growth projections for the continent as a whole are strong, and opportunities exist for Wisconsin companies to get involved, both with extending basic services—infrastructure, health care, education—to a wider swath of the population, and with supporting sectors such as energy, information technology, manufacturing, 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 12 countries in southern and eastern Africa, and has regional sub-offices in Tanzania and Mauritius, 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. Thanks to plentiful oil reserves, these countries have high per capita GDP, but are working to diversify their economies. 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.

View Detailed Country Information: saudi arabia, south africa, united arab emirates

View All


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Middle East, and the 19th-largest economy in the world. It is a very relationship-intensive market. Many Saudi nationals have studied in the United States, and the personal relationships created in the process can lead to commercial relationships and valuable business connections. Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state, and its judicial system is based on Islamic (Shari’ah) law for both criminal and civil cases. The government plays a major role in the economy of Saudi Arabia, so it is important to be aware of the political connections of business contacts.

Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves are the second-largest in the world, and the country is the world’s leading oil producer and exporter. The Saudi government is encouraging private-sector growth to lessen the kingdom’s dependence on oil and increase employment opportunities for the swelling population. Diversification efforts are focusing on the power generation, telecommunications, natural gas exploration, and petrochemical sectors. The government is committed to resolving the shortage of low-cost housing, promising to add 500,000 units, and is also investing heavily in infrastructure, education and industry. Driven largely by high oil prices and expansionary public spending, Saudi Arabia’s economy expanded even during the global slowdown.


See Global Market Updates for Saudi Arabia


South Africa is an economic powerhouse on the African continent, and serves as a gateway to Southern African markets. Wisconsin exporters have recognized this, as export growth to South Africa has grown 205 percent since 2005—outpacing export growth to most markets, including China and India, by a wide margin. South Africa hosts one of the strongest financial systems in the world and has a growing middle class, strong rule of law and robust 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, and an advanced aerospace and defense industry, as well as strong manufacturing capacity. These sectors offer opportunities for Wisconsin companies. The focus on renewable energy has increased, which provides a good platform for Wisconsin companies that can assist at the development stage. Education and health care are additional areas where Wisconsin companies can pursue opportunities for improvement and advancement.


See Global Market Updates for 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. It 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. Fueled by oil wealth and 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.

In November 2013, UAE won the bid to host Expo 2020 in Dubai, more commonly known as the World’s Fair. The theme of the Expo, “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future,” will be achieved by focusing on sustainability, mobility and opportunity. The UAE and the other countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have all experienced strong growth for multiple years and are using their financial resources to diversify their economies away from dependence on oil and gas exports. They are spending large sums of money on expanding housing, education, healthcare and general infrastructure for their citizens.


See Global Market Updates for United Arab Emirates

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.