Iraq's most valuable export is oil, which has historically accounted for almost all of its total export value. Rising oil prices during the 1970s created increases in export revenues. However, the drop in world oil prices and Iraq's exporting problems due to international sanctions essentially put an end to Iraqi oil exports. The UN imposed trade restrictions on non-oil exports in August 1990. Non-oil exports (often illegal) were estimated at $2 billion for the 12 months following the March 1991 cease-fire. Iraq was traditionally the world's largest exporter of dates, with its better varieties going to Western Europe, Australia, and North America.
Until 1994, the UN committee charged with supervising what little international trade Iraq is permitted to engage in—food and medicine, essentially—kept records on the amount of goods it approved for import in exchange for oil. In the first half of 1994, the committee recorded $2 billion in food imports, $175 million in medicine, and an additional $2 billion in "essential civilian needs," a term that at that time referred to agricultural machinery, seeds, and goods for sanitation.
In 1995, the Iraqi government rationed its people only one half of the minimum daily requirement in calories. In 1997, the UN permitted Iraq to expand its oil sales to increase its purchasing power of food and other sources of humanitarian relief. In the spring of that year the country received 400,000 tons of wheat to help feed its suffering population, who had been living under strict food rations for four years. Limited exports were organized by the UN, and the oil-for-food program brought in revenues during 1999 equaling $5.3 billion.
In 1998, Iraq exported crude petroleum (80%), refined petroleum products (18%), and natural and manufactured gas (2.0%). Principal trading partners in 1998 (in millions of US dollars) were as follows:
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