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How China Became Saudi Arabia’s Largest Trading Partner

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Saudi Arabia turns to China for trade

Saudi Arabia’s Trade With China Surpasses the West

Over the past two decades, the economic presence of China has been growing significantly around the world.

The country has already surpassed the U.S. as the largest trading partner of developed nations such as Japan and the European Union.

But the world’s second largest economy is making significant inroads in the Middle East as well. This graphic by Ehsan Soltani uses data from the World Trade Organization (WTO) to chart Saudi Arabia’s trading history with the EU, the U.S, and China.

Evolving Trade Relations

With China’s imports from and exports to Saudi Arabia now exceeding the major oil-producing country’s combined trade with the U.S. and the EU, China has become Saudi Arabia’s dominant trading partner.

Saudi Arabia Net Trade by YearWith China ($B)With U.S. ($B)With EU-27 ($B)
2021$87.3B$25.1B$53.1B
2020$67.2B$20.6B$43.8B
2019$78.1B$28.3B$57.4B
2018$63.5B$38.2B$62.7B
2017$50.1B$36.0B$52.6B
2016$42.9B$36.0B$49.1B
2015$51.8B$43.2B$56.9B
2014$69.1B$67.1B$73.0B
2013$72.2B$72.1B$75.2B
2012$73.3B$75.3B$74.3B
2011$64.3B$62.7B$70.0B
2010$43.2B$44.1B$47.4B
2009$32.6B$34.0B$38.2B
2008$41.8B$69.5B$58.4B
2007$25.4B$47.6B$47.3B
2006$20.1B$40.9B$46.2B
2005$16.1B$35.7B$39.9B
2004$10.3B$27.8B$30.5B
2003$7.3B$24.1B$24.4B
2002$5.1B$18.7B$20.5B
2001$4.1B$19.2B$19.6B

Back in 2001, Saudi Arabia’s trade with China was a mere fraction—just one-tenth—of its combined trade with the EU and United States. While the total value of trade was modest at this time, it’s been increasing consistently almost every year since.

By the year 2011, China had surpassed the U.S. for the first time in bilateral trade value with Saudi Arabia. Then by 2018, trade between China and Saudi Arabia surpassed the Middle-Eastern country’s trade with the entire EU.

Fast forward to today, and China has emerged as a larger trading partner with Saudi Arabia than the rest of the West combined.

The Perfect Match?

China’s status as Saudi Arabia’s biggest trading partner makes sense considering its recent economic growth and focus.

China is the largest buyer of crude oil in the world, and it buys more from the Saudi Arabia than anywhere else. Almost half of the $87.3 billion bilateral trade between the two nations in 2021 was comprised of China’s crude oil imports. This accounted for 77% of China’s total imports from Saudi Arabia, which also included goods like plastic—a petroleum product.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, imported over $30 billion worth of goods including technological equipment, telephones, and light fixtures.

To see what other countries China has become the largest trading partner of, check out How China Overtook the U.S. as the World’s Major Trading Partner.
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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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Economic Growth Forecasts for G7 and BRICS Countries in 2024

The IMF has released its economic growth forecasts for 2024. How do the G7 and BRICS countries compare?

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Faded horizontal bar chart visualization of G7 and BRICS countries' real GDP growth forecasts for 2024.

G7 & BRICS Real GDP Growth Forecasts for 2024

The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) has released its real gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecasts for 2024, and while global growth is projected to stay steady at 3.2%, various major nations are seeing declining forecasts.

This chart visualizes the 2024 real GDP growth forecasts using data from the IMF’s 2024 World Economic Outlook for G7 and BRICS member nations along with Saudi Arabia, which is still considering an invitation to join the bloc.

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Mixed Economic Growth Prospects for Major Nations in 2024

Economic growth projections by the IMF for major nations are mixed, with the majority of G7 and BRICS countries forecasted to have slower growth in 2024 compared to 2023.

Only three BRICS-invited or member countries, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and South Africa, have higher projected real GDP growth rates in 2024 than last year.

GroupCountryReal GDP Growth (2023)Real GDP Growth (2024P)
G7🇺🇸 U.S.2.5%2.7%
G7🇨🇦 Canada1.1%1.2%
G7🇯🇵 Japan1.9%0.9%
G7🇫🇷 France0.9%0.7%
G7🇮🇹 Italy0.9%0.7%
G7🇬🇧 UK0.1%0.5%
G7🇩🇪 Germany-0.3%0.2%
BRICS🇮🇳 India7.8%6.8%
BRICS🇨🇳 China5.2%4.6%
BRICS🇦🇪 UAE3.4%3.5%
BRICS🇮🇷 Iran4.7%3.3%
BRICS🇷🇺 Russia3.6%3.2%
BRICS🇪🇬 Egypt3.8%3.0%
BRICS-invited🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia-0.8%2.6%
BRICS🇧🇷 Brazil2.9%2.2%
BRICS🇿🇦 South Africa0.6%0.9%
BRICS🇪🇹 Ethiopia7.2%6.2%
🌍 World3.2%3.2%

China and India are forecasted to maintain relatively high growth rates in 2024 at 4.6% and 6.8% respectively, but compared to the previous year, China is growing 0.6 percentage points slower while India is an entire percentage point slower.

On the other hand, four G7 nations are set to grow faster than last year, which includes Germany making its comeback from its negative real GDP growth of -0.3% in 2023.

Faster Growth for BRICS than G7 Nations

Despite mostly lower growth forecasts in 2024 compared to 2023, BRICS nations still have a significantly higher average growth forecast at 3.6% compared to the G7 average of 1%.

While the G7 countries’ combined GDP is around $15 trillion greater than the BRICS nations, with continued higher growth rates and the potential to add more members, BRICS looks likely to overtake the G7 in economic size within two decades.

BRICS Expansion Stutters Before October 2024 Summit

BRICS’ recent expansion has stuttered slightly, as Argentina’s newly-elected president Javier Milei declined its invitation and Saudi Arabia clarified that the country is still considering its invitation and has not joined BRICS yet.

Even with these initial growing pains, South Africa’s Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor told reporters in February that 34 different countries have submitted applications to join the growing BRICS bloc.

Any changes to the group are likely to be announced leading up to or at the 2024 BRICS summit which takes place October 22-24 in Kazan, Russia.

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