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Canada’s arms exports boom to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Qatar

Some 92% of Saudi Arabia's purchases were armored combat vehicles with most of the shipments coming from a $15 billion contract reached in 2014 but only approved for export by Canada’s current government.
The Canadian Military in an armoured personel carrier drive away from a house that is flooding after dropping off people to sandbag because of high water levels on the Red River in Winnipeg, Manitoba 30 April. The water on the Red River continues to rise and over 20,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. AFP PHOTO/Carlo ALLEGRI (Photo credit should read CARLO ALLEGRI/AFP via Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia, Israel and Qatar were among Canada’s top customers for weapons and other military supplies after the United States in 2022, according to new data from Global Affairs Canada, the country’s department that manages diplomatic, consular and trade relations.

Historically, the largest buyer of Canadian arms is its neighbor, the United States, but Canada only reports the value of a small subset of its annual military exports to the United States.  

The data shows that Saudi Arabia received around $1.15 billion in Canadian military exports last year, making it the largest non-US customer of Canada’s materiel. It bought way more than runner-up Germany, which imported $221.63 million in Canadian arms and military technology last year. Saudi Arabia accounts for around 54% of the total value of non-US military exports. Armored vehicles constituted a big part of Canada's exports to Saudi. 

Qatar was Canada’s sixth biggest non-US customer and second biggest Middle Eastern customer for military exports, receiving $49.26 million worth of weapons and other materiel in 2022.

In terms of the number of exported military permits utilized last year, Israel was top of the list followed by the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Australia. Israel utilized 315 Canadian military permits in 2022, followed by the UK utilizing 290. Israel imported $21.33 million worth of Canadian weapons and other military technology last year. Those five aforementioned countries accounted for more than half of all Canadian military permits utilized by other nations. 

The Middle East as a region accounts for 59% of non-US destined military goods from Canada, the data shows, making the region the second biggest military customer for Ottawa.

Of Saudi Arabia’s military purchases from Canada, 92% were armored combat vehicles with most of the shipments coming from a $15 billion contract reached in 2014 but only approved for export by Canada’s current government.

The data showed that it is the 11th year in which Saudi Arabia has been Canada’s second largest purchaser of military equipment after the United States, showing that multiple diplomatic rifts over the last decade between Ottawa and Riyadh had no significant impact on arms sales.

As well as Canada, the United States, the UK, France and Spain are some of the largest arms exporters to Saudi Arabia. Some countries banned arms sales to the kingdom as part of an effort to end Yemen’s civil war, which a Saudi-led coalition is fighting in. Many of those bans, like those of the United States in 2021, were temporary; however, some such as Italy’s became permanent. In January 2021, Italy also permanently banned arms sales to the United Arab Emirates as it was part of the Saudi-led coalition in the war.

Saudi Arabia and Canada restored ties to their normal level last month, ending a five-year rift over human rights criticism from Ottawa to Riyadh. 

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