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Kuwait: Foreign Aid and Trade
Country Study > Chapter 5 > Economy > Foreign Aid and Trade


Foreign trade has always dominated Kuwait's economy. Before the discovery of oil, merchants developed large transshipment and reexport businesses that, along with the sale of pearls to foreign dealers, yielded a substantial part of the population's income. The discovery of large quantities of oil provided a new and increasingly important export because Kuwait needed only small amounts of oil products domestically. Nonetheless, even after the discovery of oil, Kuwait's merchants continued to develop transshipment and reexport businesses with neighboring countries. During the Iran-Iraq War, goods for Iraq passed through Kuwaiti ports. Oil, however, overwhelmingly dominated Kuwait's exports.

Kuwait's significant foreign-exchange earnings from oil exports and investment income largely removed any constraints on imports in the pre-invasion period. Almost any commodity could be imported, and most import duties were modest. Imports for Kuwait's high-income economy were mainly finished products because of the small domestic manufacturing sector. The government accumulated surplus funds that were invested abroad. A large part of these reserve investments abroad, however, were cashed in during the Iraqi occupation and the liberation period that followed in order to pay the expenses of Kuwait and the allied coalition.

Historically, Kuwait also invested part of its revenues in foreign aid, primarily to Arab states. This foreign aid increased substantially as oil revenues rose in the 1970s. It took many forms, such as loans, joint financing, equity participation, and direct grants, particularly in support of Arab causes. In the 1960s, the government began placing funds in the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED), established in 1961. The best known of Kuwait's investment organizations and one that was used as a model by other oil exporters, KFAED functioned as both an investment and an aid agency, providing loans for specific projects, often on concessionary terms. KFAED's charter was changed in 1974, when capitalization was increased to KD1 billion (for value of the Kuwaiti dinar -- see Glossary), and the fund began expanding its provision of funds to developing countries worldwide. Most KFAED aid went to development projects, especially in agriculture, to provide basic services such as electricity, water, and transportation and to develop human resources through education and health care. A large amount of aid went directly from the government to other states. In per capita terms, Kuwait's aid program was one of the most generous in the world. In the early 1980s, when oil prices were high, nearly 4 percent of Kuwait's gross national productwent to the aid program. But in the late 1980s, the levels of aid declined along with declining revenues. After the Iran-Iraq War started, in 1980, Kuwait increasingly directed its aid toward Iraq. During the 1980s, Kuwait lent Iraq an estimated US$13 billion. Kuwait's foreign aid slowed considerably after the Iraqi invasion in August 1990 and is expected to remain limited as Kuwait deals with the costs of reconstruction.

Data as of January 1993

Last Updated: January 1993

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Kuwait was first published in 1993. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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