Mauritania imports food, fuel, vehicles and spare parts, building materials, and clothes, and exports mainly iron ore, fish, and some gold. Its exports amounted to US$425 million in 1997, and are shipped mostly to Japan (24 percent), Italy (17 percent), France (14 percent), and Spain (8 percent). Imports in 1997 worth US$444 million, mostly machinery and equipment, petroleum products, capital goods , foodstuffs, and consumer goods , were purchased from France (26 percent), Spain (8 percent), Germany (7 percent), and the Benelux countries (7 percent). Mauritania's economic ties to black Western African countries have lost relative importance over the 1990s compared to those with the Arab countries of Northern Africa.
Mauritanians benefitted in the 1990s from the abolition of import monopolies on rice, wheat, flour, sugar, tea, and powdered milk, which improved the accessibility of food throughout the country. Credit restrictions, import taxes, and interest rates still hinder most importers. Mauritania is trying to promote trade, particularly with Arab countries. A trade deficit of 6.6 billion ouguiyas is growing, however, and reflects not only the weakness of the domestic economy but also increased debt repayments and the decrease in money transfers from Mauritanian workers abroad.