Middle East roundtable: where are the export opportunities?


Our first thought-leadership roundtable, held in partnership with Arab Bank Australia, focused on how Australian food exporters can take advantage of the strong demand for Australian goods and services from the Middle East.

While the recent decline in the oil and gas price has dampened the region’s economic outlook, it remains full of opportunity for SMEs looking to grow internationally.

Here are some of the key themes that came from what was a lively discussion:

A demand for quality

Many countries in the Middle East have an ongoing need for the products and services that Australian SMEs offer.

Being an Australian company in the Middle East is a huge advantage, given our reputation for quality, strong regulatory framework and focus on sustainability.

“Australian SMEs are very active in the food and agri space,” said Andrew Hunter, Export Finance Australia’s Managing Director, “absolutely world-class when it comes to mining services and quite strong in services like healthcare and education.”

“So in terms of the products and services that the Middle East needs, Australian SMEs are absolutely perfect.”

L - R: Andrew Hunter, Managing Director and CEO, Export Finance Australia; Pablo Kang, Former ambassador to the UAE and Qatar; Joseph Rizk, CEO and Managing Director, Arab Bank Australia

Be flexible, be persistent

There’s no one approach to doing business in the Middle East, as the cultural differences will vary greatly, even from city to city.

Many locals have amazing English speaking skills and when they give you time, they will give 100 per cent. However, timelines are not always followed and paperwork can often be onerous, so it’s important to be patient and flexible.

Getting to know people through regular visits, especially outside the business environment, will also help you to build strong relationships, as will understanding how best to stay in touch when you return home.

“When you’re not in the region, email is a very unreliable form of communication,” said Pablo Kang, former Australian Ambassador to the UAE and Qatar.

“Simply picking up the phone, texting and using messenger platforms like WhatsApp, are all far better options, with email used as a last resort.”

Think long term

Don’t try to close a speculative or average deal simply to achieve a quick uplift in revenue – it’s vital that you have a long term outlook if you wish to be successful.

“In the Middle East, business, socializing and getting to know people are all intertwined,” said Adam Malouf, Senior Manager, Arab Bank Australia, “as there isn’t that demarcation between them that you generally see in Western countries.”

“So you need to prepare for that before you go over there, as you may need to do three, four or even five trips before you even start talking about a potential business deal.”

And then having a continuous presence ‘on the ground’ is also important, as this will help you to build trust and influence those relationships that you have spent so much time and money establishing.

Download our free eBook, Exporting to the Middle East, for more information on how to capitalise on the export opportunities in this region.

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Find out more

Watch our overview video below to learn more from our Middle East roundtable around achieving export success in the Middle East.