Interest returns to distant lands

THE Middle East is being promoted as an exotic forgotten kingdom and that has helped fuel a growing interest in the region as a tourism and commercial destination.

In the past year WA’s trade to the Middle East has jumped 12 per cent as new construction, information technology and service industries take their wares to the blooming region.

But neither the Federal or State governments have driven this push.

Instead, Middle Eastern countries have embarked on an ambitious, oil money-backed drive to diversify their economies after their economies were shaken by a fall in the demand for oil following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Oil sales account for almost half of the region’s economy.

The United Arab Emirates, run by arguably the most ambitious administration in the region, is a case in point.

Holding 10 per cent of the world’s oil reserves and ranked the fourth largest producer of oil in the Organisation of Exporting Petroleum Countries, the UAE’s economy derives 36 per cent of its gross domestic product from the sector.

It is in the midst of a 20-year economic diversification plan. The Government has a $US13.4 billion fund that it is pumping into non-oil export markets and opportunities.

Department of Industry and Technology international and investment services director Simon Johnson said the UAE was leading the industry through its bullish optimism.

“What Dubai has done is model itself on Singapore. It’s going to be the financial centre, the trade centre and the IT centre,” he said.

“They have a vision with a very good market, ambition and boldness. They have a dream.”

In the past year alone around 100 IT firms are said to have set up shop in Dubai. By 2010 the number of people employed in the sector is expected to reach 80,000.

“People think the Middle East is just about sheep trade. There’s a lot of other things going on there as well,” Mr Johnson said.

In the construction and engineering sector, Multiplex Constructions and Clough have both been winning contracts in the region.

Most recently a Multiplex subsidiary was awarded a contract to build a $130 million, 42-storey, five-star hotel within the Dubai marina complex.

WA technology firms have also been making headway. Pivod Technologies has won multimillion dollar contracts in Saudi Arabia to install security systems.

Its media and venue management system was installed in the $250 million King Abdul Aziz Historical Centre located on about 235 hectares in the heart of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.

Dome Coffee, The Cox Group and Seaspray Aluminium Boats have also successfully made moves on the huge market.

For the moment the WA Government, which is leading a trade mission to Dubai in late October, is focusing on emerging markets in agriculture, education, tourism and health care.

On Tuesday TAFE WA won a $50 million contract to supply training to the Arabian Gulf State of Qatar in the areas of physics, English, maths, chemical engineering, oil refinery operations, safety and security issues.

Both Edith Cowan and the University of WA have been establishing links to the region.

Mr Johnson said while the Middle East was becoming more and more an oil and gas centre, more could be done to develop other sectors.

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