At the time of unification, South Yemen and North Yemen had vastly different but equally struggling underdeveloped economic systems. Since unification, the economy has been forced to sustain the consequences of Yemen’s support for Iraq during the 1990–91 Gulf War: Saudi Arabia expelled almost 1 million Yemeni workers, and both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait significantly reduced economic aid to Yemen. The 1994 civil war further drained Yemen’s economy. As a consequence, for the past 10 years Yemen has relied heavily on aid from multilateral agencies to sustain its economy. In return, it has pledged to implement significant economic reforms. In 1997 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved two programs to increase Yemen’s credit significantly: the enhanced structural adjustment facility (now known as the poverty reduction and growth facility, or PRGF) and the extended funding facility (EFF). In the ensuing years, Yemen’s government attempted to implement recommended reforms—reducing the civil service payroll, eliminating diesel and other subsidies, lowering defense spending, introducing a general sales tax, and privatizing state-run industries. However, limited progress led the IMF to suspend funding between 1999 and 2001.
In late 2005, the World Bank, which had extended Yemen a four-year US$2.3 billion economic support package in October 2002 together with other bilateral and multilateral lenders, announced that as a consequence of Yemen’s failure to implement significant reforms it would reduce financial aid by one-third over the period July 2005 through July 2008. A key component of the US$2.3 billion package—US$300 million in concessional financing—has been withheld pending renewal of Yemen’s PRGF with the IMF, which is currently under negotiation. However, in May 2006 the World Bank adopted an assistance strategy for Yemen under which it will provide approximately US$400 million in International Development Association (IDA) credits over the period FY 2006 to FY 2009. In November 2006, at a meeting of Yemen’s development partners, a total of US$4.7 billion in grants and concessional loans was pledged for the period 2007–10. At present, despite possessing significant oil and gas resources and a considerable amount of agriculturally productive land, Yemen remains one of the poorest of the world’s low-income countries; more than 45 percent of the population lives in poverty. The influx of an average 1,000 Somali refugees per month into Yemen looking for work is an added drain on the economy, which already must cope with a 20 to 40 percent rate of unemployment. Yemen remains under significant pressure to implement economic reforms or face the loss of badly needed international financial support.
At unification, both the Yemen Arab Republic and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen were struggling underdeveloped economies. In the north, disruptions of civil war (1962-1970) and frequent periods of drought had dealt severe blows to a previously prosperous agricultural sector. Coffee production, formerly the north's main export and principal form of foreign exchange, declined as the cultivation of khat increased. Low domestic industrial output and a lack of raw materials made the YAR dependent on a wide variety of imports.
Oil and gas
Yemen is a small oil producer and does not belong to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Unlike many regional oil producers, Yemen relies heavily on foreign oil companies that have production-sharing agreements with the government. Income from oil production constitutes 70 to 75 percent of government revenue and about 90 percent of exports. Yemen contains proven crude oil reserves of more than 4 billion barrels (640,000,000 m3), although these reserves are not expected to last more than 9 years, and output from the country’s older fields is falling, a concern since oil provides around 90% of the country's exports. The World Bank predicts that Yemen's oil and gas revenues will plummet during 2009 and 2010, and fall to zero by 2017 as supplies run out, and UK's Royal Institute for International Affairs warns that instability there could expand a zone of lawlessness from northern Kenya to Saudi Arabia, while describing Yemen's democracy as "fragile" and pointing to armed conflicts with Islamists and tribal insurgents. Thus western and other diplomats and leaders are concerned to preserve Yemen's stability and to avert adverse outcomes.
Since the mid-1990s, the primary focus of Yemeni natural gas development has been the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG). In 1997, in order to commercially develop Yemen’s 16.9 trillion cubic feet (480 km3) of natural gas reserves, Yemen Gas Company joined with various privately held companies to establish Yemen LNG (YLNG). In August 2005, following years of setbacks, the government gave final approval to three LNG supply agreements, enabling YLNG to award a US$2 billion contract to an international consortium to build the country’s first liquefaction plant at Balhat on the Arabian Sea coast. The plant is expected to deliver a total of 6.7 million tons of LNG per year; initial shipments are expected by the end of 2008, with natural gas likely to flow to the United States and Korea. The Yemen government expects the LNG project to add US$350 million to its budget and enable it to develop a petrochemicals industry
Following a minor discovery in 1982 in the south, an American company found an oil basin near Ma'rib in 1984. A total of 27,000 m³ (170,000 barrels) of oil per day were produced there in 1995. A small oil refinery began operations near Ma'rib in 1986. A Soviet discovery in the southern governorate of Shabwah has proven only marginally successful even when taken over by a different group. A Western consortium began exporting oil from Masila in the Hadhramaut in 1993, and production there reached 67,000 m³ (420,000 barrels) per day in 1999. More than a dozen other companies have been unsuccessful in finding commercial quantities of oil. There are new finds in the Jannah (formerly known as the Joint Oil Exploration Area) and east Shabwah blocks. Yemen's oil exports in 1995 earned about US$1 billion.
Marib oil contains associated natural gas. Proven reserves of 9.15 trillion cubic feet (259 km3) could sustain a liquid natural gas (LNG) export project. A long-term prospect for the petroleum industry in Yemen is a proposed liquefied natural gas project (Yemen LNG), which plans to process and export Yemen's 9.15 trillion cubic feet (259 km3) of proven associated and natural gas reserves. In September 1995, the Yemeni Government signed an agreement that designated Total of France to be the lead company for an LNG project, and, in August 2005, launched the Yemen LNG project. The project is a $3.7 billion investment over 25 years, producing approximately 6.7 million tons of LNG annually.
Industry and manufacturing
The U.S. government estimates that Yemen’s industrial sector constitutes 47.2 percent of gross domestic product. Together with services, construction, and commerce, industry accounts for less than 25 percent of the labor force. The largest contributor to the manufacturing sector’s output is oil refining, which generates roughly 40 percent of total revenue. The remainder of this sector consists of the production of consumer goods and construction materials. Manufacturing constituted approximately 9.5 percent of Yemen’s gross domestic product in 2005. In 2000 Yemen had almost 34,000 industrial establishments with a total of slightly fewer than 115,000 workers; the majority of the establishments were small businesses (one to four employees). Almost half of all industrial establishments are involved in processing food products and beverages; the production of flour and cooking oil has increased in recent years. Approximately 10 percent of the establishments are classified as manufacturing mixed metal products such as water-storage tanks, doors, and windows.
Services and tourism
Economists have reported that Yemen’s services sector constituted 51.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2002 and 52.2 percent of GDP in 2003. The U.S. government estimates that the services sector accounted for 39.7 percent of gross domestic product in 2004 and 39.3 percent in 2005.
Yemen’s tourism industry is hampered by limited infrastructure as well as serious security concerns. The country’s hotels and restaurants are below international standards, and air and road transportation is largely inadequate. Kidnappings of foreign tourists remain a threat, especially outside the main cities, and, coupled with terrorist bombings at the Port of Aden in 2000 and 2002, present a significant deterrent to tourism. As recently as September 2006, tribesmen in the Shabwa province, east of Sanaa, kidnapped four French tourists on their way to Aden. They were freed two weeks later. In October 2006, the U.S. Department of State reiterated previous warnings to U.S. citizens, strongly urging them to consider carefully the risks of traveling to Yemen. Britain’s Foreign Office has issued a similar advisory. Recent statistics for tourist arrivals in Yemen are not available, but in 2004 the number rose to 274,000 from 155,000 in 2003.
Imports totaled an estimated US$4.7 billion in 2005 and are projected to increase to US$5 billion in 2006 and to US$5.4 billion in 2007. Yemen is a net importer of all major categories of products except fuels. Principal imports are machinery and transport equipment, food and livestock, and processed materials. According to the United Nations, Yemen imports more than 75 percent of its main dietary staple—wheat. The principal source of Yemen’s imports in 2005 was the United Arab Emirates (13.4 percent of total imports); the bulk of these imports are actually re-exports from the United States and Kuwait. Yemen received 10.6 percent of its total imports from Saudi Arabia and 9 percent from China.
In 2005 Yemen’s exports totaled US$6.4 billion. Exports are expected to increase to reach a record US$8.6 billion in 2006 as a result of strong oil revenues. Petroleum is Yemen’s main export, accounting for 92 percent of total exports in 2004 and 87 percent in 2005. Yemen’s non-oil exports are primarily agricultural products, mainly fish and fish products, vegetables, and fruit. In 2005 Asia was the most important market for Yemen’s exports, primarily China (37.3 percent of total exports), Thailand, and Japan. Chile was also a primary export market (19.6 percent of total exports).
Yemen’s import and export values have increased and decreased dramatically in the past 10 years owing to shifts in global oil prices. As a result, the country’s trade balance has fluctuated significantly from a deficit of almost US$800 million in 1998 to a surplus of US$1 billion in 2000. Rising oil prices resulted in a surplus of US$817 million in 2004 and a surplus of US$1.7 billion in 2005.
In recent years, Yemen has reported increasing non-merchandise deficits. These deficits have, however, been offset by record export earnings, which have resulted in large enough trade surpluses to keep the current account in surplus—US$175.7 million in 2003, US$524.6 million in 2004, and US$633.1 million (about 4 percent of gross domestic product) in 2005.
In 1990 the newly unified Republic of Yemen inherited an unsustainable debt burden amounting to roughly 106 percent of gross domestic product. Debt rescheduling by the Paris Club creditor countries in the 1990s coupled with assistance from the World Bank’s International Development Agency resulted in a drop in Yemen’s debt stock to US$5.4 billion (an estimated 39 percent of gross domestic product) by year-end 2004. According to the Central Bank of Yemen, Yemen’s debt stock was US$5.2 billion (an estimated 33 percent of gross domestic product) by year-end 2005. According to the U.S. government, Yemen’s reserves of foreign exchange and gold were US$6.1 billion in 2005.
Yemen does not have a stock exchange, therefore limiting inward portfolio investment. Portfolio investment abroad is also very limited, with the result that portfolio flows are largely unrecorded by authorities. In the early 1990s, net direct investment was at its peak as foreign investors tapped Yemeni oil reserves, but since 1995 net direct investment flows have been negative because cost recovery for foreign oil companies has exceeded new direct investment. A five-year US$3 billion liquid natural gas (LNG) construction project involving a consortium of foreign companies is planned following government approval in August 2005. Such a project raises the prospect of increased foreign investment in the future as LNG facilities are built.