New exports worth around £9 million were confirmed by local companies on the recent Invest Northern Ireland trade mission to Kursdistan, now among the fastest growing markets in the Middle East.
It’s also a developing market, the most stable Iraqi region, in which we have invested considerable time and other resources. Our work to develop high-level relationships, in addition, has benefited immensely from support from Arlene Foster, the Enterprise Minister, who led the most recent mission, in October, and helped to open doors for our companies.
Minister Foster, in fact, had a series of strategically important meetings with the most senior ministers and officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and will host return visits to Northern Ireland by KRG political and business leaders in the coming years.
Invest NI’s focus on Kurdistan is an excellent example of our commitment to assist local companies win business in global markets which are continuing to show economic growth that will offer significant business opportunities for our exporters.
Over the past year, we’ve also arranged missions and other trade activities for ambitious companies to growth markets such as Brazil, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and, of course, India, where we’ve recently strengthened our trade support team on-the-ground in Mumbai. We have also re-focused our resources and operations within the UAE. Our office in Dubai is the hub of our operations in this region and our extension into other emerging markets e.g. “The Stans”.
In Saudi Arabia, a market in which many local companies are winning business, the most recent being Belfast’s Bubble NI, we have opened a trade development office in Jeddah. Following a trade mission there earlier this year, Bubble, which employs seven people, secured a deal with Fonterra of New Zealand, one of the world’s biggest and most influential corporations.
Local companies interested in South Africa will also be able to take advantage of a new market development programme there, the second cohort of which will happen in the first quarter of 2012. Recruitment for the following cohort will commence early next year.
What has been immensely encouraging about our engagement with Kurdistan is the extent of the business that has developed in a short period of less than 12 months. The signs of a significant uplift in business are also good and for companies across a broad range of business sectors.
To date, good business has been secured by companies in materials handling machinery, engineering and scientific services. In addition, local companies in architectural services, construction and civil engineering specialists, construction equipment, power generation, recycling machinery and security services, all represented on last month’s mission, are confident of business particularly in Erbil, the capital of a region that’s being transformed by huge investment programmes on infrastructure and other initiatives to improve its economy and living conditions.
Furthermore, we’ve identified significant interest there in companies that can help the region, among the most fertile in Iraq, to develop its food processing industry in key sectors such as beef and dairying. It needs expert advice and practical support to feed its growing population, a requirement which presents opportunities to beef and dairying companies in two of the biggest and most successful sectors of our £3.7 billion agri-food industry.
The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) in Belfast, for example, has become involved in helping the Kurdistan authorities to upgrade food safety systems to European standards. Further business is on the cards for AFBI there.
The clear message from Northern Ireland companies, both large and small and across the broadest range of industries, is that Kurdistan is extremely keen to do business with us. The door is well and truly open for Northern Ireland in Kurdistan. Our hope is that many more companies will follow the lead of those already doing business there and explore the opportunities developing throughout Kurdistan. Further trade missions to this region are scheduled for 2012/13, and details of these will be published soon.
This article appeared in the January 2012 edition of Business First.