Dubai Expo a powerful global forum for SMEs to reconnect

International trade

The Expo is an opportunity for Irish business to visit their business partners for the first time in 18 months. Picture by Naufal MQ

Conor Fahy

The first world fair to take place in the Middle East, Expo 2020 Dubai, opened its doors to exhibitors on October 1, after being delayed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Over the next six months, over 190 national pavilions will showcase their national culture, innovations, food and craft and design at Expo.

For Enterprise Ireland, the fair is also a powerful business platform for Irish businesses on a global stage. Enterprise Ireland will be present throughout, working to identify opportunities for Irish companies to build relationships, win new business, and raise our profile as a source of innovation.

There are significant opportunities in the Middle East for Irish companies to increase exports across the region. Dubai, one of the seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has forecast economic growth of 3.1pc this year, increasing to 3.4pc in 2022.

However, business across the Middle East is highly relationship-based and winning new business on Zoom, or similar platforms, has been very challenging for Irish companies in such a high engagement business culture.

Despite the disruption of the pandemic, demand for innovative offers from our agile Irish companies has stayed strong. Our Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Riyadh teams have worked hard to ensure that existing relationships between local partners and Irish companies are maintained throughout the pandemic, albeit virtually.

In 2020, companies backed by Enterprise Ireland recorded €155.6m in exports to the UAE, an increase of 15pc on the previous year. Irish businesses innovated and adapted to ensure they could continue trading and, in some cases, increase or win new business.

This has positively impacted sustaining and bolstering jobs across Ireland in sectors including healthcare, ICT, cleantech, and fintech.

Expo 2020 Dubai presents an opportunity for Irish business to visit their business partners for the first time in 18 months. Enterprise Ireland will focus on several key events during the next six months of Expo, including the Water, Energy, Environment Technology Exhibition 2021 (WETEX 2021), the Dubai Airshow, Arab Health, and many education-related events.

This week, the first of these events, WETEX 2021, will take place, focusing on the areas of solar, water and sustainability. With Ireland fast becoming an international cleantech hub, we have an array of green innovators who have a track record of delivering innovative solutions to some of the world’s foremost environmental challenges.

Several Irish companies will participate at WETEX to showcase their solutions and attend meetings with local partners from across the region.

Although this rapidly growing sector provides substantial environmental benefits to meet national agendas to tackle climate change, it is also a significant business opportunity in the green economy. On this week’s Enterprise Ireland trade visit to the UAE and Qatar, Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital and Company Regulation Robert Troy will meet with the Irish companies promoting some of the best of Irish innovation across the cleantech sector.

Enterprise Ireland is also organising a Trade Mission to the Gulf Region in November, led by An Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. In addition, during Expo Knowledge and Learning week from December 12-18 2021, Enterprise Ireland plans to host several ‘Education in Ireland’ events in association with the proposed visit by Higher Education Minister Simon Harris to the UAE.

The UAE has very stringent health and safety protocols, which has created the right environment for Irish executives to travel back. Our priorities for Q4 2021 and into 2022 will continue to focus on reconnecting businesses which the pandemic has disrupted.

The connection between Ireland and the UAE has remained strong throughout the pandemic. We now have an opportunity to build further on this and bring mutual benefits to both business communities into the future.

Conor Fahy is Regional Director for India, Middle East, and Africa at Enterprise Ireland