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Heavy-hitters urge Irish firms to tap Arabian demand

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Michael Looby, joint managing director of Byrne Looby.

Michael Looby, joint managing director of Byrne Looby.

Michael Looby, joint managing director of Byrne Looby.

TWENTY-two countries, with a population of 365 million and growing.

A conference will hear today that the Arab markets are a rich source of potential for ambitious Irish exporters.

Huge investments are taking place in physical and industrial infrastructure, and the countries rely on imports for a variety of goods.

The first business forum focusing on the business and trade links between Ireland and the Arab world kicks off in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, in Dublin this morning.

Irish companies already operating in the market will be represented, as well as business people who have surmounted the challenges. Government agencies will also be on hand to offer advice.

The conference will hear that the Arab markets are one of the most important trading regions for Ireland outside of Europe and North America, with the top five most important Arab markets for Ireland including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kuwait and Qatar.

The line-up today includes a range of top business executives from the Gulf whose knowledge, experience and advice will be shared through presentations, panel discussions and Q&A sessions.

They will be joined by senior executives from Irish companies which have achieved success in the region.

Among the 20 participants over the four-panel sessions will be JP Morgan Middle East managing director Declan Hegarty, Spinneys' general manager Martinus Hendrikse, Glen Dimplex chief executive Sean O'Driscoll and Qatar's former telecom regulator, William Fagan.

The full-day event, jointly organised by the Arab-Irish Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia and Emirates Airlines, will be opened by Jobs Minister Richard Bruton. Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney will also attend.

The key note address will be given by Colm McLaughlin, Dubai duty free executive vice chairman.

Among the participants is Michael Looby, founder and joint managing director of Dublin-based engineering consultants Byrne Looby. It has been operating in the Middle East since early 2011 and has 30 people based in the region, out of a total workforce of 110.

About a third of its estimated €13m annual turnover for this year will come from the region.

He will take part in a panel discussion on operating in Qatar. "There are marvellous opportunities. It's a very interesting place [the Arab markets]," he told the Irish Independent, ahead of today's event.

"There are huge opportunities for Irish companies. I just think that they need to be quite calculated about their approach. The positive side is that there is a lot of work."

The forum will also be attended by the chief executive of the Arab Irish Chamber of Commerce, Ahmad Younis, who will give the closing address.

Irish Independent