Irish exports to the Arab world increased by 10% in the first nine months of 2020 compared to the same period last year, according to the Arab Irish Chamber of Commerce.

The new figures from the AICC reveal that there were notable increases in exports of Irish goods and services to Qatar, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Algeria.

With the end of the Brexit transition period fast approaching and the prospect of a trade deal in flux, Irish SMEs are looking to expand their reach when it comes to export partners.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, Ahmad Younis, the CEO of the AICC, said there are lots of opportunities for Irish firms in the Arab region.

"The Arab world consists of 21 countries, with a population of 420 million people, representing 5.5% of the world's population and accounting for 3.1% of the world's economy.

"The population of the region is growing rapidly and is forecast to exceed 500 million, 6% of the global population, by 2028," he said.

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The AICC report states that Ireland has exported a total of almost €1.9 billion in goods alone to the Arab world from the first quarter to the third quarter of this year, compared with €1.73 billion for 2019.

Mr Younis said he expects that figure to increase further.

"Many Irish companies are looking to reduce their dependence on the UK market so we forecast that Irish exports to the region will increase even further.

"While the impact of Brexit is instilling a sense of trepidation in many business owners in Ireland, now is the time to focus on the bigger picture and explore opportunities elsewhere, and the reality is they don't have to look too far to successfully diversify their export markets," he said.

80% of the Irish goods exported to the region fall into five categories - soft drink concentrates, baby formula, pharmaceuticals, computer equipment and dairy.

"Demand for imports is high, and coupled with multiple large-scale investment and infrastructure plans that are already in train, it's a ready-made market for Irish SMEs," explained Mr Younis.

With a population of 33.7 million, he said that while Saudi Arabia is the largest importer of Irish goods among the AICC member countries, other markets are growing in popularity.

"Last year, the AICC commissioned a report by EY-DKM that highlighted 11 member countries that are considered to represent the greatest potential for Irish business.

"These are Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

"These countries represent approximately 4.4% of the world's population and 2.8% of the world economy," he said.

Taking the first step

With traditional business activities such as conferences and exhibitions on pause for the next few months, Mr Younis advised that Irish companies interested in exploring opportunities in the region are not deterred and instead make use of all available resources.

"There is a lot of help and advice available locally to business-owners looking to expand their international exporting potential.

"Make use of this time and the expertise available by speaking to organisations like Bord Bia and the AICC.

"Enterprise Ireland also has specialist teams across the region to specifically support Irish firms in getting established and provides advice on the different business models that operate out there.

"Do your research and avoid wasting time, money and effort surging ahead with a business model that is not right for you - or the market," advised Mr Younis.