That is one of the key recommendations from a report carried out by DKM Consultants, on behalf of the Arab-Irish Chamber of Commerce.
Launching the report yesterday, incoming chamber chairman, Joe Geoghegan, said the bulk of the 21 countries affiliated to the organisation already represent “a very significant trading bloc for Ireland”, but also offer “huge potential” to grow further.
In 2011, the value of Ireland’s goods exports to Arab countries amounted to €1.56bn, representing nearly 2% of our total exports. That figure — which is mainly made up of multinational company exports and food, computer and pharmaceutical goods — rose by over 12%, to €1.75bn last year.
With around €1.3bn in services exports (bringing the current value of Irish- Arab exports to €3bn), the chamber and DKM have forecast a trebling to €9bn, over the next 25 years and average growth of 8% per annum in the medium- term. Mr Geoghegan said that, with combined investment in Arab states set to total $4.4bn over the next five years, and substantial population growth happening, many domestic Irish firms are viewing the region as a bigger export prospect than China.
While Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt are the big three export locations, Mr Geoghegan suggested that second-tier nations, such as Libya and Iraq, should become significant trading partners of Ireland within the next five-to-ten years.
John Lawlor of DKM Consulting, noted that the Middle-East/North African region is particularly dependent on food imports, something which offers “significant opportunities” to Irish food producers.
He said further recommendations include more resources for Ireland’s enterprise agencies to develop strategies and build ‘Brand Ireland’ in the region, noting that many Irish firms wouldn’t have the scale of resources to set up base in the region, by themselves.
The visa waiver system — active for a number of Arab nations — should be maintained past its current 2016 timeframe, and extended to all countries in the region, he said.