How Irish businesses are turning prospects into customers in the Arab world

Last year, Irish exports to Arab markets reached an all-time high. The value of exported goods was almost €3 billion, an increase of 23% on 2021 and the largest export total from Ireland (excluding services) recorded with the region.

With countries and regions such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman and Egypt growing in population size and increasingly looking West for goods and services, there are considerable opportunities in these markets for Irish businesses of any size looking for new or increased export opportunities.

When the Middle East and Gulf region first opened up a few decades ago, there was the inevitable ‘rush’ of large Western companies wanting to do business there.  However, opportunities in the region have also opened up for SMEs and niche providers, which is great news for Irish exporters who are mostly held in high regard in the Gulf markets.

At the AICC we’ve been supporting Irish businesses exporting to these exciting, growing markets for more than 35 years and know a thing or two about what it takes to succeed.  We are often asked about the key things that every business should know before looking East, so here are a few top tips that can be employed at every step of your export journey.

  1. Spending time in the region is essential

The Arab world can be a challenging place to do business; people there like to do business in person, so meeting face to face will invariably give you the edge. This means regular travel as you meet new contacts and establish and develop relationships, but the rewards can be great. Virtual meetings are certainly acceptable, particularly of late, but the more you commit to the market, the better the outcome for your brand or business.

  1. Leverage hard-won knowledge and expertise

Don’t be afraid to contact Irish companies already working in the Gulf states for their knowledge and insights, much of which has been hard won but easily imparted if you speak to the right people. There are many expat networking groups worth exploring and, depending on your sector, organisations such as Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland provide excellent support and can open doors for you that might otherwise seem difficult to get through. The Arab Irish Chamber of Commerce is based in Dublin and we are a one-stop-shop offering a unique and professional export documentation service that helps remove administrative burdens, allowing you to get on with the business of doing business.

  1. Anticipate bargaining – understand the signs

Arab businesspeople love an intense and heated negotiation, but don’t let that put you off. In fact, often if there’s tension in the room during a negotiation it can be a sign that they are about to close a deal or a sale!  Conversely, pleasantries and an amicable meeting can often mean that they are not ready to do business with you. Regardless of how things are going, you should always be ready to haggle on price as it’s part of the culture and is usually expected.

  1. Understand the similarities

While there are of course some differences, Irish and Arab cultures are similar in many ways.  Family, trust and humour are important and giving your word can hold a lot of weight with Arab businesspeople.

  1. Bring business cards

While used less frequently in Europe, if attending an in-person meeting bring plenty of business cards. Our clients have often walked into their first meeting and a room of some 20 people, when they were expecting only two.

It goes without saying that you should always research the market(s) in which you are interested and understand if there is a demand or gap in the market for your product. But with Irish businesses exporting everything from food to baby formula, electronics to pharmaceuticals, it’s clear that in the current market, prospects can become customers quickly in the Arab world.

Get in touch today if you would like to find out more about doing business in the Arab Wrold and the types of documentation you will need.