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Strengthening Trade Ties Between Iowa + Saudi Arabia

Trade Between Iowa and Saudi Arabia

September 8, 2020

I recently had the honor of speaking alongside H.R.H. Princess Reema, ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the U.S., in a virtual discussion hosted by the Greater Des Moines Partnership and sponsored by the Iowa Economic Development Authority. The objective of the event was to explore new avenues and opportunities for trade between Saudi Arabia and the state of Iowa and commemorate the 75th anniversary of the start of the relationship between our two countries — a relationship that was forged in 1945 by my grandfather, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and H.R.H. Princess Reema’s great grandfather, King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, the first leader of Saudi Arabia.

As president and CEO of the U.S.-Saudi Business Council (USSBC), it is my goal to help U.S. businesses take advantage of the opportunities available in Saudi Arabia to find new markets for export and establish lucrative partnerships with Saudi businesses. The strength of Iowa’s industries and their relevance to Saudi market needs holds the potential for significant commercial ties and mutual benefit.

Saudi Arabia Pinpoints Key Iowa Industries

Iowa already has a trade relationship with Saudi Arabia valued in the tens of hundreds of millions of dollars: from 2010 to 2019, the volume of trade between the two totaled $712.6 million, for an annual average of $71.3 million. In 2019, however, Iowa’s trade with the Kingdom sank to $38.1. The industries in Iowa that export the most to Saudi Arabia are led by sauces and condiments, followed by industrial instruments, medical devices, livestock feed, and other agricultural products such as corn, fruit, nuts and cheese.

Agriculture, as Iowa's strongest economic sector, has the most potential for Saudi engagement. The desert country needs to import most of its agricultural products, requiring they look to agricultural powerhouses like Iowa to meet their needs. Since the start of the year, the Saudi Grains Organization (SAGO), Saudi Arabia’s state grain buyer, has imported 3.8 million tons of feed barley from the E.U., Australia, the Black Sea region, and North and South America, with another order for 1.08 million more tons of feed barley to arrive in August/September this year.

In May 2020, the Saudi government allocated $533 million toward importing agricultural products. Corn and tractors are both top Iowa exports to all countries, with about $750 million of each product exported from the state last year — these products both have strong prospects in the Saudi market. Construction-related industries, the agricultural sector, tractor manufacturing and industrial manufacturing are all among Iowa’s fastest-growing industries and are also key sectors being targeted by Saudi Arabia’s ambitious economic diversification program, Vision 2030.

Saudi Arabia is no stranger to Iowa — many Iowans are already engaged in the Kingdom. Iowa-based companies, including John Deere, Collins Aerospace, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, HNI Corporation, Meredith Corporation and MercyOne, have a long history with Saudi Arabia, ranging from exports to joint venture partnerships.

Beyond product exports, Saudi students make up the largest group of international students at the University of Northern Iowa and are one of the largest international groups at the University of Iowa. These students spend four years studying and living in the state of Iowa and return home with firsthand knowledge of American customs and culture and a proclivity towards U.S. products and an interest in working with American companies.

With Saudi Arabia’s rapid growth and open doors come tremendous opportunities, and we at the USSBC are working hard to bring the potential for trade and partnerships within reach of small and medium-sized companies across the U.S. It is not just economic partnerships that we are hoping to build, but long-lasting interpersonal relationships between two peoples. The many U.S.-Saudi business ventures that have flourished over the years are a natural extension of the trust-built relationship started 75 years ago between our two nations and it is our hope that more Iowa companies find a place in that vibrant bilateral partnership.

If you believe that there might be potential for opportunity and growth for your Iowa Company, the Business Council will commit to working with your group, every step of the way, to ensure that nothing is overlooked as you go through the process of exploring the inroads of success towards the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We will be by your side throughout the entire process.

Through the Global DSM initiative, the Greater Des Moines Partnership works to establish Greater Des Moines (DSM) as a global community by bolstering global trade and foreign investments and leveraging international talent.

The Partnership's Public Policy team engages with local, state and federal officials to create public policy that generates economic growth, business prosperity and talent development in Greater Des Moines (DSM). The Partnership is a nonpartisan organization.