DESPITE a recession that knocked down global arms sales last year, the United States expanded its role as the worlds leading weapons supplier, increasing its share to more than two-thirds of all foreign armaments deals, according to a new Congressional study, reports The New York Times. The US signed weapons agreements valued at $37.8b in 2008, or 68.4 per cent of all business in the global arms bazaar, up significantly from American sales of $25.4 billion the year before. Italy was a distant second, with $3.7b in worldwide weapons sales in 2008, while Russia was third with $3.5b in arms sales last year - down considerably from the $10.8 billion in weapons deals signed by Moscow in 2007. The growth in weapons sales by the US last year was particularly noticeable against worldwide trends. The value of global arms sales in 2008 was $55.2b, a drop of 7.6pc from 2007 and the lowest total for international weapons agreements since 2005. The increase in American weapons sales around the world was attributable not only to major new orders from clients in the Near East and in Asia, but also to the continuation of significant equipment and support services contracts with a broad-based number of US clients globally, according to the study, titled 'Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations. The annual report was produced by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, a division of the Library of Congress. Regarded as the most detailed collection of unclassified global arms sales data available to the general public, it was delivered to the House and Senate on Friday, ready for members return from the Labour Day recess. The overall decline in weapons sales worldwide in 2008 can be explained by the reluctance of many nations to place new arms orders in the face of the severe international recession, wrote Richard F Grimmett, a specialist in international security at the Congressional Research Service and author of the study. Grimmetts report stated that the growth of weapons sales by the US was extraordinary in a time of global recession and resulted from new arms deals as well as the sustained cost of maintenance, upgrades, ammunition and spare parts to nations that bought American weapons in the past. Weapons sales to developing nations reached $42.2b in 2008, only a nominal increase from the $41.1b in 2007. The study found that the larger arms deals concluded by the US with developing nations last year included a $6.5b air defence system for the UAE, a $2.1b jet fighter deal with Morocco and a $2b attack helicopter agreement with Taiwan. Other large weapons agreements were reached between the US and India, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, South Korea and Brazil. Russia was far behind in 2008 with $3.3b in weapons sales to the developing world, about 7.8pc of all such agreements. The report says that while Russia continues to have China and India as its main weapons clients, Russias new focus is on arms sales to Latin American nations, in particular to Venezuela. France was third with $2.5b in arms sales to developing nations, or about 5.9pc of weapons deals with these countries. The top buyers in the developing world in 2008 were the United Arab Emirates, which signed $9.7b in arms deals; Saudi Arabia, which signed $8.7b in weapons agreements; and Morocco, with $5.4b in arms purchases. The study uses figures in 2008 dollars, with amounts for previous years adjusted for inflation to give a constant financial measurement.