Each year I take part in a promotional tour of four UK cities. The annual Gulf Tour this year took in Cambridge, Manchester, Birmingham and Cardiff, featuring representatives from other regional countries as well as private sector partners such as HSBC and law firm Pinsent Masons.
The rest of the delegation is made up of Department of International Trade and Delivery Partner staff members. The effort put into the Gulf Tour events by these teams always makes the trip worthwhile, such is the fine job that the local host regions do in attracting people to each of the events. Given the variety of companies that attend, I always make an effort to gauge sentiment in the UK for the UAE.
This year I informally asked attendees about the impact of Brexit upon their export plans. I wanted to see if the situation had changed since 2017 when the response was one of wait-and-see caution and, amongst all the press clamour, there has been very little front-page space featuring the opinions of small and medium companies.
I don’t claim that my findings make up part of a wider study created in cooperation with a university of note, so don’t hold the front page for me, but, the word Brexit was met by most companies I spoke to with a degree of indifference: I returned to the UAE with the distinct feeling that businesses are doing their best to carry on regardless.
I will admit to being slightly surprised. Not at the sentiment itself but by the normality of the sentiment. Nobody had a strong opinion in terms of how it would affect exports to the Middle East and the consensus was very much that these are interesting markets for export regardless, so let’s crack on! As someone whose job it is to help UK firms expand to the region, I felt positive.
However, whilst the general feeling is that there is a market for UK products and services in the UAE – which there is! – it’s also felt that there is not enough information about how to start the export process at the outset. The great thing about the Gulf Tour is that everyone in the room is attending specifically to learn about the UAE and the Middle East, so at each venue we’re able to educate twenty or thirty new companies and start demystifying things.
With all the ongoing Brexit uncertainties, the one thing I am sure of is that British exporters will keep ploughing forward and that the UAE is just one of the countries open for business.
Opportunity is out there (here)!