Traders battle on in Middle East

BATTLE-HARDENED Western Australian traders have not been scared off the Middle East region, with many declaring it business as usual.

Australian wheat, sheep and car exports look set to continue in the medium term with the Australian Government announcing last week that it was purchasing 100,000 tonnes of wheat for humanitarian food aid in Iraq.

That decision headed off concerns from farmers that Australia’s $800 million in annual wheat sales to Iraq could be threatened.

However, while expressing sup-port for the Government’s humanitarian decision, WAFarmers president Colin Nicholl said he was concerned that the US was trying to break into the market by also sending wheat to the region.

The US administration has announced that it is sending 200,000 tonnes of wheat to Iraq.

“It seems extremely hypocritical for the US to be offering Australia the Free Trade Agreement on one hand and angling to take one of our most treasured trade partners away from us on the other,” Mr Nicholl said.

Car manufacturers are also optimistic about the outlook of exports to the Middle East. Toyota, Holden and Mitsubishi are planning to ship a combined 95,000 vehicles to the region this year.

Ford Australia president Geoff Polites reportedly told a business luncheon in Sydney this week that car sales would be affected if the war lengthened. Holden has continued sending vehicles to the region and has plans to ship more than 25,000 vehicles there this year.

Toyota, however, is the dominant player with 65,000 vehicles destined for the Gulf countries.

Holden has advised that sales are continuing strongly and says there is no immediate need to pull out staff based in the Middle East as it did following the September 11 attacks in the US.

However, the decision to continue trade rests in part on the maintenance of open shipping lanes.

For WA businesses, trade to the region, promoted extensively by the WA Government since Air Emirates started almost daily flights between Dubai and Perth, is continuing in the early part of this war.

WA-based Middle East marketing specialist firm Conbata Pty Ltd, which has been operating in the region for the past 20 years, is continuing to see strong levels of interest.

However, general manager Daniel Moir said many companies were seeking new advice in the light of the war.

“War obviously is playing a part but for many it is just business as usual. We are hopeful that it doesn’t affect us too much,” Mr Moir said.

He said the newspapers based in the Middle East showed that construction plans and building projects were still going ahead.

Mr Moir, who is going to the region in the next week to do some work for clients, said people in Dubai, in particular, continued to re-main optimistic and this was reflected in the strong investments.

Conbata recently entered a joint venture with Immigration Solutions Australia to provide immigration and education services in Dubai.

The company embarked on a major marketing and advertising campaign this month in the Middle East.

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