'It's My Favorite': U.S. Products Are Tops in the Middle East

From cars to cheesecake, Arab countries prefer to buy American.

May 31, 2012, 7:50 AM

May 31, 2012 — -- In Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Elham Mohamed recently was in the market for a new car. But not just any new car -- a sports car and one that was made in the U.S.

"I love American cars. ... All American cars have something special," the 20-year-old said as she eyed and eventually bought a Camaro in a GM dealership. "You know, it's an American car, even the look, the colors, everything. I'm going to stick with American cars. It's my favorite."

From cars and food to clothing and businesses, consumers in the Middle East love their U.S. products.

According to the U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce, U.S. exports to the Arab world are expected to reach $117 billion next year -- up from $68 billion in 2010 -- and result in 1 million stateside jobs.

The U.S. is the top exporting country to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with exports totaling $13.8 billion and $2.8 billion in 2011, respectively. The top growth sectors are machinery, meat, household goods and toys and games.

GM is the No. 1 American car company in the Middle East. In 2011, while the U.S. car industry grew by just 1 percent, GM said that it grew by 13 percent. Its Tahoe sport utility vehicle, manufactured in Texas, is the No. 1 seller in the region, followed by the Yukon SUV.

Eli's Cheesecake out of Chicago forged a partnership in 2010 with Herfy, Saudi Arabia's biggest and most successful fast-food brand. With 250 workers, Eli's makes 15,000 to 20,000 desserts a year and now exports about 10 percent of those treats to Herfy's network of 185 restaurants in five countries.

Mideast Likes: From Cheesecake to Ceilings

Eli's said that because of its overseas deal, the company had grown by 50 percent in the past year.

For Nancy Mercolino, president of Ceilings Plus, the Middle East -- and Europe -- have meant big business for her Los Angeles manufacturing company.

Ceilings Plus has $30 million in annual revenue and 55 percent of its sales hail from Europe and the Middle East.

"We've doubled our job count at our company -- more than double in the last four year -- and we owe that to our exporting," she told ABC News. "We owe the growth of Ceilings Plus over the past five years to the innovation, care and quality of our employees."

The 160-strong company, which makes wood and metal ceilings, beat out 10 others to build all the ceilings in the new Doha airport. Every single component of the ceilings -- all 3 million square feet -- were made in Los Angeles.

"When you go to the airport and you look at the massiveness of it," she said, "there's one ceiling alone that is 8-football-fields long. To see the massiveness of the design and the beauty is. It's overwhelming."

"The massiveness of scale is beyond anything we've seen anywhere," Mercolino said, "and we have done international work."

Mercolino also credited Export-Import Bank of the U.S. with her company's overseas business boom.

"[The bank] also made an incredible impact on our ability to get the equipment and finance these projects," she said. "Without [Export-Import] bank, we wouldn't be here today. We could not have done this project without government financing. Private lenders don't readily lend as deemed risky."

Mercolino said that as small businesses like hers and Eli's gained more experience and knowhow to take their product overseas, other countries should take notice.

"It's a long journey that's still not done. We're still in the beginning phase," she said. "If we get started exporting, China, I think, should watch out. We are the sleeping giant and they're just waking us up."

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