Ireland bridges the Gulf with game-changer for businesses
New business opportunities are set to open up to the Gulf region - already the second-most important long-haul market after North America out of Ireland - following a key decision by the Irish authorities.
As flagged by this column late last year, Ireland is ending visa restrictions for citizens of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from next Wednesday. It's a key to doing more business with the UAE, which is home to around 10,000 Irish expats and an area in which some 230 Irish companies do business.
And the move brings Ireland into line with the UK, which has had the edge over Ireland in offering visa-free travel to Emiratis.
"It's always been a little bit of a niggle for them being able to go into the UK but not into Ireland without getting a visa," Joe Breslin, head of Enterprise Ireland in Dubai, told the Sunday Independent.
"Anything of this nature is beneficial in terms of easing business, because one of the great things is the air linkages we have with the UAE."
Both Abu Dhabi-based Etihad and Dubai-based Emirates fly double daily from Dublin to their respective hubs.
Enda Corneille, Ireland Country Manager of Emirates, told this column that the visa move is a game-changer, saying it will "add to traffic - we've got 720 seats per day from Dubai into Dublin so there's plenty of capacity".
Both Corneille and Breslin were singing from the same hymn sheet, with the Enterprise Ireland representative, two years into his role in the UAE, saying that "business people always take the route of least resistance" while Corneille said "you don't want any [visa ] blockages".
Breslin believes that there's massive scope for growth for Irish trade and links. "One of the things we've been trying to promote here for a while is the education sector. We've been more successful in Saudi than the UAE and we've got 230 UAE nationals in Irish universities, so we see that as a huge opportunity to promote that," he said.
"What happens in this part of the world is that not only students go but the family comes with them to visit them, sometimes to escort them to settle down so this makes it easier for them to make that decision to go to Irish universities."
He said visa-free travel will see business grow incrementally, adding: "We have about 230 Irish companies doing business here now - it's grown quite a lot. A lot of companies would use the UAE as base for the Gulf. It's an easy place to do business. The language is predominately English which helps and the legal and financial structures here are well established and familiar to most of our companies."
Aside from education and the bloodstock industry, Irish companies are involved in a range of fields, he said. "We would see it in financial services, in software, in the ICT. We would see some of it in aviation because of the major carriers out here, education services, even in life sciences in particular."
Two major conventions loom, with Arab Health coming up next week and 20 Irish companies attending with junior minister Jim Daly. "Dubai ambulance follow the Irish national ambulance guidelines for training paramedics - they would be sending about 50 paramedics to Ireland for training over the year," Breslin added.
In addition, Enterprise Ireland is counting down to Export 2020, with Breslin believing there's massive scope for more links between the UAE and Ireland, with this country already attracting 50,000 Emiratis each year.
n Ease of travel for business people could be an issue following Brexit, warned Dr Michael Kerkloh, CEO of Munich Airport of President of powerful lobby group Airport Councils International.
He is concerned about the tone of negotiations between Europe and the UK to keep air links operating under Open Skies following Britain's departure in March 2019.
"The risks of a no-deal scenario are real," he said. "For now, we still remain completely in the dark as to what will happen at the end of the transition. One thing is pretty clear though - the political dynamics shaping these negotiations are very much at odds with business interests."
It's an echo of the views expressed by Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary, who bluntly warned last year that "after March 2019 ... there's no basis under which airlines can fly from the UK to Europe or Europe to the UK", adding: "The British electorate will begin to understand that Brexit is a dumb idea. It's all great talking about controlling your borders but when that means you have to go on your holidays in Scotland instead of Spain or Italy or Greece it might soften their cough a little bit."
Other players, including IAG head Willie Walsh, believes that a deal will be reached to avoid disruption, but Kerkloh warned that there's a danger of a protectionist agenda as both sides thrash out a deal. It's still a case of watch this (air)space.
Sunday Indo Business