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Delegation to raise WA’s profile in the Middle East

THE WA Government has been pulling out all stops to shore-up its multi-million dollar investment in the success of Emirates Airline, which began operating a direct route from Perth to the Middle East in August.

Premier Geoff Gallop is currently in Dubai, capital of the United Arab Emirates, to open a WA trade office. Joining him are 90 WA government officials, media representatives and business leaders in what is believed to be the largest trade mission in more than a decade.

To make the road smoother for potential exporters, State Development Minister Clive Brown last week launched a Department of Industry and Technology guide for doing business in the Gulf States, which is available on the department’s website.

But while the WA Government has only relatively recently discovered the potential of the oil-rich countries of the Middle East, WA businesses such as Worley and Pioneer Tanks, have been quietly making inroads in the region for the past decade.

For the past five years WA exports to the region have grown 37 per cent, more than double the national average for the same period.

Total value of Australia’s exports in 2001-02 to these countries was $4.75 billion, of which WA’s share was $932 million, or 20 per cent.

The region has a combined gross domestic product of more than $650 billion, yet the economies are very much one dimensional, heavily reliant on oil, but lacking many other services.

Mr Brown said it was these services that WA companies could provide.

There is an increasing demand for a diverse range of products and services in areas such as agribusiness, education, IT and telecommunications, mining, oil and gas, construction and architecture, tourism and service infrastructure, as well as food products.

Taking the lead in the development of a meat market is WA firm Allegro Pty Ltd. The business has been exporting to the Middle East for the past two decades. Today it has become a $60 million-a-year business with the company exporting halal certified lamb, mutton and beef to the Gulf States and to Jordon, Lebanon and Yemen. In the past it has traded in Iran, Egypt, Algeria and Iraq.

But dealing with the Middle East does not come without its problems.

Government inconsistencies and unpredictability in regulations are seen as major impediments to firms operating in the region.

Briefing mission delegates, Teresa Lawrence, who was behind the recent contract win by TAFE International to provide education in Qatar, said the contract was constantly being re-written, with new demands and pressures being placed on the WA Government education provider.

Allegro is another to have faced numerous obstacles in its trade negotiations.

A ban was placed recently on imports of offal by the government of Saudi Arabia, resulting in a large decrease in exports for the WA business.

In IT services, many of the Gulf States are embracing new technology with vigour.

The UAE has implemented a revolutionary idea by creating the world’s first free trade zone dedicated exclusively to the Internet and related firms, creating what is known as Dubai Internet City.

Dubai Internet City provides a “Knowledge Economy Ecosystem”, where Internet providers can feed off each other’s resources.

Numerous global companies, such as Microsoft, Oracle, HP, IBM, Compaq, Dell, Siemens, Canon, Logica, Sony Ericsson and Cisco are taking advantage of tax benefits and together employ approximately 5,500 IT specialists.

On the local front, WA technology firm PIVOD’s Media and Venue Management Systems has been installed in the King Abdul Aziz Historical Centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and the Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz Science and Technology Centre in Khobar, Saudi Arabia.

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