THE Irish trade mission to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates will create enough jobs to cut €20m a year from the dole bill, more than justifying the cost, according to Richard Bruton.
The Minister for Jobs and Enterprise, along with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and a team from Enterprise Ireland, has travelled from Abu Dhabi to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, for the final leg of a five-day mission.
Deals worth €25m have been signed over the course of the mission which ends today and the ambitious target to secure new business for Irish firms over the next two years justifies the huge undertaking, according to Mr Bruton.
"We have set a target to win €150m of additional business in the next two years," he said.
That is enough to create 1,000 new jobs at home, the minister said.
Each unemployed person at home costs the State €20,000 a year, so every new job represents a saving, he said.
"Clearly trade missions pay for themselves many times over, and this is a market that is one of the fastest in the world, great opportunities in areas like construction where we have a very, very good fit," he said.
While the travelling politicians met with senior political and financial leaders in the region, Mr Bruton said much of the work done was by the 87 Irish companies with the delegation, who are in the region to drum up new business.
They range from software companies like Digisoft in Cork, which has been pursuing deals with media businesses in the region; animal feeds producer Eclipse Feeds; and representatives of Waterford and Athlone Institutes of Technology.
So far, deals worth more than €25m have been signed by the Irish firms, including a €15m deal for Jones Engineering. Two more engineering firms, Kentz Group and Byrne Looby announced their expansion into the region with new offices for Kentz and a new joint venture deal for Byrne Looby with ASCO Consulting Engineers in Qatar.
Yesterday, College Ireland, an umbrella body for 15 aviation sector companies and institutions signed a memorandum of understanding with the UAE's flag carrier airline Etihad.
The deal was two-and-a-half years in gestation College Ireland's Brian Joyce told the Irish Independent. Seven separate Irish organisations will be involved with Etihad as the scheme rolls out, including providing training and technical services.
Irish firm College Ireland has ambitious plans to develop an aviation training campus in Ireland at the Weston airport site in Dublin, and Galway Airport.
Aviation has been a big focus for the mission. Mr Kenny met with Etihad's chief executive James Hogan yesterday at the airline's Abu Dhabi headquarters, a meeting also attended by the head of Aer Lingus Christoph Mueller.
Etihad owns a 3pc stake in Aer Lingus and the two airlines co-operate on issues such as code sharing so that passengers using its Dublin-Abu Dhabi route can fly on to Asia and Australia with Etihad, or to the US with Aer Lingus.
While a range of businesses travelled to the Middle East this week the mix is carefully selected, Mr Bruton said.
"We look at each market and look at what sub sectors offer opportunities, so clearly here in the Gulf construction engineering, design services, ICT, health, so we build our trade mission around those subsectors and Enterprise Ireland works with the companies to make sure they are ready for a market like this," he said.
Enterprise Ireland needs to be the first contact point for Irish business owners looking to get involved in future missions, the minister said.
Only vetted clients of the industrial support agency are able to participate in official trade missions.