It’s all change in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia pushing ahead with major reforms, Iran beginning to open up to foreign trade and the rise of challenger nation Bahrain.
Fresh from a stimulating lunch event we hosted with 20 companies from Northern Ireland who are active in the region, some are pondering whether Dubai is still the centre of gravity for trade in the Middle East with so many of its neighbours moving to challenge its supremacy.
Our Belfast seminar was an eye-opening chance to engage with significant figures in the engineering, food and drink, software and construction sectors with a common interest in opportunities in the Middle East, ranging from those who are fielding their first trade orders to some who are thoroughly established for the long-term with dedicated offices close to their customers.
The consensus seemed to be that Dubai may not be the biggest prize on the table – yet it is still regarded as the regional hub for companies from the UK and Ireland.
There may be bigger prizes in the Saudi and Iranian markets, but Dubai remains the gateway to the region due to the connectivity of direct flights, the ease of doing business, the access to skills and its status as a comfortable community for ex-pats (and tourists).
The UAE is home to nine million people, yet only a million are indigenous Emiratis, making for a melting pot atmosphere with workers flooding in from Europe, South Africa, North America and India.
Many of our guests report a positive bias within UAE and the Gulf towards UK and Irish businesses built on trust, quality and a long term commitment to the region.
Our Belfast lunch event revealed great enthusiasm for further and deeper exploration of the opportunities in the region driven by initiatives such as Expo 2020 Dubai and Saudi Arabia’s far-reaching economic reform blueprint Vision 2030.
A common thread was the need for trusted local talent and guidance to help companies new to the region to negotiate the often-complex rules on business ownership, tax and free zones.
OCO Middle East has supported more than 180 UK companies in the region since 2015 and we’re always here to support you through your expansion plans via our office in Dubai.