Kuwait: Economy

 Kuwait has a small, relatively open economy dominated by the oil industry and government sector. Approximately 90% of the Kuwaiti citizen labor force works in the public sector, and 90% of private sector workers are non-Kuwaitis. Kuwait's proven crude oil reserves of about 101.5 billion barrels--9% of world reserves--account for nearly 60% of GDP, 95% of export revenues, and 80-90% of government income. During the 1970s, Kuwait benefited from the dramatic rise in oil prices, which Kuwait actively promoted through its membership in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The economy suffered from the triple shock of a 1982 securities market crash, the mid-1980s drop in oil prices, and the 1990 Iraqi invasion and occupation. The Kuwaiti Government-in-exile depended upon its $100 billion in overseas investments during the Iraqi occupation to help pay for the reconstruction. Thus, by 1993, this balance was cut to less than half of its pre-invasion level. The wealth of Kuwait is based primarily on oil and capital reserves, and the Iraqi occupation severely damaged both, although both have been restored as reconstruction has proceeded and world oil prices have risen. Kuwait enjoyed an economic boom following Operation Iraqi Freedom as many companies working in Iraq established offices in Kuwait and procured goods through Kuwaiti companies. The banking, financial services, logistics, telecommunications, and construction sectors, in particular, have grown in the last two years. The sustained high oil prices also provided the Kuwaiti Government with windfall revenues in 2005 and 2006.

In the closing hours of the Gulf War in February 1991, the Iraqi occupation forces set ablaze or damaged 749 of Kuwait's oil wells. Kuwait spent more than $5 billion to repair oil infrastructure damage. Oil production was 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) by the end of 1992, and pre-war capacity was restored in 1993. Kuwait's current production capacity is estimated to be 2.5 million bpd. Kuwait plans to increase its capacity to 3.5 million bpd by 2015 and 4.0 million bpd by 2020.

In 1934, the ruler of Kuwait granted an oil concession to the Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), jointly owned by the British Petroleum Company and Gulf Oil Corporation. In 1976, the Kuwaiti Government nationalized KOC. The following year, Kuwait took over part of onshore production in the Divided Zone between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Kuwait Gulf Oil Company (KGOC) produces jointly there with Saudi Arabian Chevron, which, by its 1984 purchase of Getty Oil Company, acquired the Saudi Arabian onshore concession in the Divided Zone. Saudi Arabian Chevron's concession is due to expire in February 2009.

Offshore in the Divided Zone, the Arabian Oil Company (AOC)--80% owned by Japanese interests and 10% each by the Kuwaiti and Saudi Governments--produced on behalf of both countries from 1961 until 2000, when its concession in the Saudi zone expired. AOC gave up its drilling rights in the Kuwaiti sector 3 years later. KGOC has assumed AOC's offshore operations. Aramco Gulf Oil Company (AGOC) manages the Saudi portion of the offshore Divided Zone.

Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC), an integrated, state-owned oil company, is the parent company of the government's operating companies in the petroleum sector, and includes Kuwait Oil Company, which produces oil and gas; Kuwait National Petroleum Company, which manages refining and domestic sales; Petrochemical Industries Company, which produces ammonia, urea, ethylene, propylene, and styrene and participates in a number of successful joint ventures with Dow Chemical within Kuwait and abroad; Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Company, which is responsible for exploration and upstream production outside Kuwait (in several developing countries and Australia); Kuwait Oil Tanker Company.; Kuwait Gulf Oil Company, responsible for exploration and production in the Kuwait portions of the offshore and onshore Divided Zone; and Kuwait Petroleum International, which manages refining and retail operations outside Kuwait (in Europe and East Asia).

KPC purchased from Gulf Oil Co. refineries in the Netherlands and Italy and service stations in the Benelux nations, Italy, and Scandinavia. In 1987, KPC bought a 19% share in British Petroleum, which was later reduced to 10%. KPC markets its products in Europe under the brand name Q8. In 2006, KPC announced plans to participate in a joint venture to build and operate a refinery and associated petrochemical plant in China. The Government of Kuwait also signed a memorandum of agreement with the State of Louisiana in 2006 to explore the feasibility of building a refinery in the United States.

According to official OPEC figures, Kuwait has about 101.5 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, including the Kuwaiti share of proven reserves in the Divided Zone. This gives Kuwait the fifth-largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia, Canada, Iran, and Iraq. Estimated capacity before the occupation was about 2.4 million bpd. During the Iraqi occupation, Kuwait's oil-producing capacity was severely reduced. However, tremendous recovery and improvements have been made. Oil production was 1.5 million bpd by the end of 1992, and pre-war capacity was restored in 1993. Kuwait's production capacity is estimated to be 2.5 million bpd. Kuwait plans to increase its capacity to 3.5 million bpd by 2015 and 4.0 million bpd by 2020. Oil revenues comprise about 95% of exports and 90% of total government revenues. Kuwaiti export crude averaged about $58/barrel in 2006.

Social Benefits
The government has sponsored many social welfare, public works, and development plans financed with oil and investment revenues. Among the benefits for Kuwaiti citizens are retirement income, marriage bonuses, housing loans, virtually guaranteed employment, free medical services, and education at all levels. By Amiri decree, the government occasionally disburses a portion of its budget surplus as a grant to all Kuwaiti citizens. In September 2006, an Amiri grant of 200 Kuwaiti dinars (approximately $700) was paid to every citizen who applied. Foreign nationals residing in Kuwait do not have access to these welfare services. The right to own stock in publicly traded companies, real estate, and banks or a majority interest in a business is limited to Kuwaiti citizens, and citizens of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states under limited circumstances.

Industry and Development
Industry in Kuwait consists of several large export-oriented petrochemical units, oil refineries, and a range of small manufacturers. It also includes large water desalinization, ammonia, desulphurization, fertilizer, brick, block, and cement plants. During the invasion, the Iraqis looted nearly all movable equipment of value, especially high-technology items and small machinery. Much of this has been replaced with newer equipment. The Kuwaiti Government has promoted the Trade and Investment Framework (TIFA) agreement, signed with the U.S. in 2004, as a means to attract additional foreign investment into Kuwaiti industries and enhance the country's diversification from a purely oil-based economy.

Agriculture is limited by the lack of water and arable land. The government has experimented in growing food through hydroponics and carefully managed farms. However, most of the soil which was suitable for farming in south central Kuwait was destroyed when Iraqi troops set fire to oil wells in the area and created vast "oil lakes." Fish and shrimp are plentiful in territorial waters, and large-scale commercial fishing has been undertaken locally and in the Indian Ocean.

The Kuwait Oil Tanker Company has 24 crude oil, liquefied petroleum gas, and refined product carriers and is the largest tanker company in an OPEC country. Kuwait also is a member of the United Arab Shipping Company.

Trade, Finance, and Aid
The Kuwaiti dinar is a strong currency which was pegged from 2003 until May 2007 to the U.S. dollar. The dinar is now pegged to a basket of currencies, of which the dollar is a majority. Kuwait ordinarily runs a current account surplus, estimated at $40 billion for 2006 (about 45% of GDP). Government revenues are dependent on oil revenues. In 2006, Kuwait's fiscal surplus was estimated to be about 20% of GDP, despite a 16% rise in government expenditure.

The government's two reserve funds--the Fund for Future Generations and the General Reserve Fund--which totaled nearly $100 billion prior to the invasion in 1990, were the primary source of capital for the Kuwaiti Government during the war. While these funds were depleted to $40-$50 billion after the war, total external assets, including the two reserve funds and the Public Fund for Social Security, are currently estimated to be around $160 billion. The bulk of this is invested in the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Japan, and Southeast Asia. In order of importance, foreign assets are believed to be invested in stocks and bonds, fixed yield instruments (mostly short term), and real estate. Kuwait follows a generally conservative investment policy.

Kuwait has been a major source of foreign economic assistance to other states through the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED), an autonomous state institution created in 1961 on the pattern of Western and international development agencies and chaired by the Foreign Minister. In 1974, the fund's lending mandate was expanded to include all non-Arab, developing countries. According to the most recent statistics available, the Fund's paid-up capital amounts to $7 billion. Total loan disbursement extended is $37 billion. The Fund has granted 595 loans since its inception and extended technical assistance on 196 occasions to different countries and organizations in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. KFAED is responsible for administering the disbursal of at least $500 million in concessionary loans to Iraq in support of reconstruction efforts.

Over the years Kuwait has provided aid to Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, as well as the Palestinian Authority. During the Iran-Iraq war, Kuwait also gave significant aid to the Iraqis. The Kuwait fund issued loans and technical assistance grants totaling over $419 million during its fiscal year ending March 31, 2003. Kuwaiti provided unparalleled assistance during Operation Iraqi Freedom by establishing and operating the Humanitarian Operations Center for Iraq. Following the Israel-Lebanon conflict in 2006, Kuwait pledged $300 million for humanitarian aid and deposited $500 million in the Lebanese Central Bank.

At the 2003 Madrid Conference, the Government of Kuwait pledged $1.5 billion in assistance to Iraq. KFAED is responsible for disbursing and overseeing as much as $560 million of that assistance through grants. In 2005, KFAED contributed $50 million to Pakistan earthquake relief, contributed $50 million for Hurricane Katrina relief, and made significant contributions to tsunami relief efforts. Kuwaiti has also supported the establishment of the International Compact for Iraq.


CIA World Factbook (September 2008)
U.S. Dept. of State Country Background Notes (June 2008)


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