COUNTRYAAH, Saudi Arabia has a mixed economy dominated by oil
extraction and oil exports; oil accounts for about 90
percent of exports and GDP. However, great efforts have been
made to expand infrastructure and develop agriculture and
industry. To this end, efforts have been made to combine
five-year development plans with a market-oriented
orientation of the economy. Development efforts have
exceeded the supply of labor, which is why the import of
guest workers has been significant. One stated goal is to
reduce dependence on foreign labor.
Agriculture employs just over 5 percent of the labor
force. It is hampered by lack of water and limited to oases
and irrigated areas, which together occupy only 2 percent of
the country's surface. About 40 percent of the acreage is
used for extensive grazing, and only 0.3 percent (600,000
ha) is under permanent cultivation.
Major efforts have been made to increase agricultural
production and reduce food imports; For example,
desalination plants for seawater and drilled wells have been
built, which has meant that the yield has increased
significantly. However, agriculture is heavily subsidized,
and the cost of the products is several times higher than
the world market price.
Important crops are wheat, barley, dates, melons and
grapes. The expansion of agriculture has led to sharply
falling groundwater levels and salinization of arable land.
In recent times, the production of milk and other dairy
products has developed rapidly, and the country now exports
Oil recovery is the foundation of Saudi Arabia's economy.
Since its inception in 1938, the country has developed into
one of the world's largest oil producers (13 percent of
world production in 2018). Known reserves in 2018 amounted
to 41,000 million barrels, corresponding to 17 percent of
all known reserves. The most important oil fields are
located in eastern Saudi Arabia as well as in the Persian
Gulf. Saudi Arabia also produced just under 3 percent of the
world's natural gas and had 4 percent of the world's known
natural gas reserves.
Limestone, plaster, marble, salt and gold are also mined
in the country. Finds have been made of copper, zinc, iron,
silver, coal, phosphate and bauxite.
Industry and energy
The industry is currently strongly linked to the oil, but
great efforts are being made to get away from the oil
dependency and broaden the industrial base. The larger
industries are state-owned, but the state encourages the
establishment of small-scale private industry. The
industrial center has been built in al-Jubayl on the Persian
Gulf and in Yanbu on the Red Sea. The industrial backbone
consists of refineries both domestically and abroad, for
example in the United States and South Korea. Other
important industries are the building materials and steel
Electricity production is based on oil and takes place in
thermal power plants. The country's lack of fresh water has
led to large amounts being invested in the development of
desalination plants. There are now around 30 facilities and
the country is a world leader in this technology.
The volume of foreign trade is closely related to the
price of crude oil, which accounts for about 90 percent of
the export value. For a long time the country has had a
large surplus in the current account. Imports mainly consist
of machinery, food and chemicals. The most important trading
partners are China, the USA and Japan.
Saudi Arabia, like the other member states of the Gulf
Cooperation Council (GCC), is a member of the WTO. The GCC
is in itself a free trade area, which since 2003 has
gradually moved to a customs union.
Tourism and gastronomy
Saudi Arabia first began issuing tourist visas in 2006,
and tourism outside of pilgrimage and business travel is
still quite uncommon. Mecca, which houses the great mosque
with Kaba, and Medina, with Muhammad's tomb mosque, are the
holiest places of Islam and give the country great
international prestige. The 2-2.5 million pilgrims who visit
the country each year generate significant revenue, but also
require extensive infrastructure and rigorous security
In sharp contrast to modern Riyadh, with large blocks,
wide thoroughfares and many high-class hotels and
restaurants stands the Masmak Palace in sun-dried brick. It
was built by the Saud family in the 19th century and is
surrounded by a towered wall that can be passed through a
low wooden door with marks after the tribal battles even in
the early 1900s. The family's tribal village outside the
city, including the one with buildings in sun-dried brick,
has been preserved as a museum.
Although the commercial city of Jeddah has received
extensive and modern development in recent decades, the old
town center has been preserved with small shady places and
narrow alleys surrounded by houses from the 18th and 19th
centuries with finely carved, fully covered wooden
balconies. Along the Red Sea coast there are outstanding
opportunities for diving and snorkeling.
The country's food culture is still characterized by the
ancient nomadic culture, with the base consisting of goods
that can withstand heat and which can be transported or can
develop on their own bones, such as rice, lentils,
chickpeas, dates, bread, sheep and camel meat.
Common spices are cardamom, cinnamon, mint and coriander.
At the coasts a lot of fish is eaten. Vegetables such as
eggplant and onions are included in almost every meal,
preferably in salads with yogurt, perhaps served together
with borekas (meat pirogs) and hummus
(chickpea puree). For grilled lamb can be enjoyed
maydara (rice with green lentils), for seelek
(stew on lamb meat and chopped onion, rice and milk or
yogurt) served pita bread, preferably with tahina
(sesame pasta). Qataif (pancakes, rolled around a
filling of nuts, sugar and rose water) are typical of the
desserts: sweet, fragrant and spicy.
In cities, international cuisine is growing stronger,
while guest workers from mainly Pakistan and the Philippines
are influencing the supply of restaurants.