After more than 75 years, the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has evolved from a simple energy-for-security arrangement to a deeply connected commercial and interpersonal partnership. These ties have helped US businesses find a new home for exports and expand their workforces through new business opportunities, all while paving the way for Saudi Arabia’s ongoing transformation into a globally connected 21st century economy and society.
On February 14, 1945, my grandfather, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, met with Saudi Arabia’s first leader, King Abdulaziz Al Saud, to lay the foundations of an enduring economic, strategic, and cultural alliance. That meeting was instrumental in creating the bonds between the United States and Saudi Arabia that have persisted to today. I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to continue the legacy of “Peace through Commerce,” established by my grandfather, of strengthening trade ties and creating personal bridges of friendship between our communities.
Saudi Arabia is in the midst of a rapid and expansive cultural and business transformation under their ambitious “Vision 2030” national development plan. Opportunities in the Saudi economy for US companies are diverse and plenty, thanks to the ongoing Saudi effort to digitalize, modernize, and diversify their economy. Under Vision 2030’s umbrella, the Saudi industrial base is diversifying away from its traditional dependence on oil and gas toward emerging sectors like information technology, entertainment, sports, and tourism. These substantial changes create plentiful opportunities for US entrepreneurs, small and medium-sized businesses, and industry-leading corporations to provide products and services to respond to increased demand across a broad range of sectors.
The importance of Saudi Arabia’s economy to the region and the world is significant. The Kingdom is the largest economy in the Middle East and the 19th largest economy in the world. The US is Saudi Arabia’s second-largest trade partner, with US exports of goods and services to Saudi Arabia supporting thousands of American jobs. Saudi Arabia was recently ranked as the US’s 23rd largest export market, our 26th largest supplier of imported goods, and one of our leading trade partners in the Middle East. US-Saudi trade in non-oil and non-defense goods continues to rise to record levels, as total trade volume between both countries in 2021 increased 22 percent from 2020 to SAR92.5 billion ($24.7 billion). Saudi non-oil exports to the US in 2021 increased 71 percent from the year prior to SAR9.1 billion ($2.4 billion), marking the highest annual level of non-oil exports from Saudi Arabia to the US on record.
In addition to robust economic links, our two countries are also connected through many deep interpersonal ties. The United States is a popular destination for Saudi exchange students: the Kingdom ranks fourth among foreign countries that send students to the United States for undergraduate and advanced degrees. Over the last decade, more than 250,000 Saudi citizens and their families have received visas to study in the United States and experience life in American cities and small towns, bringing home memories of their personal experiences with US culture and its people. Sixty percent of the Saudi population is under 40 years of age, and many are well-traveled internationally and cherish the experiences they have had in other countries.
These personal and commercial bridges of friendship have helped our mutual alliance to continue through both easy and challenging times. I am confident that these relationships, led by ever-improving commercial ties, will continue to grow even stronger through the 21st century. The simple concept of Peace through Commerce envisioned by my grandfather is as relevant today as it was in 1945.