Newsletter 07/2021

Face to Face with...

Aziz Saba, Business Development Manager, Government of WA Middle East

Aziz Saba, Development Manager at the Government of Western Australia – Middle East, talks Expo, Covid and the past, present and future of UAE/WA trade

A decade has passed since I first landed in the UAE and my early days in this extraordinary country were spent working as business development manager at Laureate Hospitality Education, assisting students in UAE and Qatar who would like to study in overseas countries, including Australia. I also worked in Colliers International and Donatello Hospitality Group in Dubai as business development manager before being hired in 2014 by the Western Australian Investment and Trade Office in Dubai as overseas-based, locally-engaged staff.

During this time I also managed to complete my two-year part-time MBA program at Murdoch University Dubai. Over the ensuing years I have become an accomplished international business manager, amassing extensive experience across a broad spectrum of fast-paced and challenging industries, including hospitality, education and international trade.

Now that I’ve introduced myself, let’s talk about a subject everyone is undoubtedly fed up with yet seemingly can’t get enough of. Yes, COVID-19, of course. But don’t roll your eyes just yet because we really can’t avoid this painful and tedious topic and the impact – both good and bad – it’s had on trade between the UAE and Western Australia.

While COVID-19 has widely disrupted international travel, the UAE still offers strong long-term potential for WA, driven by the country’s uniquely advantageous position as a regional and international hub. The pre-Covid aviation links between WA and the Gulf region provided a good platform for growing investment and trade links and, before the pandemic, there were five daily non-stop passenger flights between Perth and the Gulf region (UAE and Qatar), serviced by Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.

The Government of Western Australia (GoWA) has adapted its approach to best support ongoing engagement with the UAE and will continue to adapt as the situation changes both here and in WA. The GoWA Dubai office has learned to harness in-market opportunities during the crisis and, more importantly, we were more proactive in supporting WA companies achieve commercial outcomes in UAE and the broader Gulf market, in line with the Diversify WA framework and the strategic foresight.

So what sort of opportunities have surfaced as a result? The synergies between WA and the UAE are ideal for Western Australian businesses looking for new and growing export markets, including agribusiness and food, education and vocational training, resources and energy, innovation, and digital technology. Recently, significant trade outcomes for WA agriculture and food have included retail products, honey, carrots, potatoes, stone fruits, Wagyu beef, live lobster, feed barley, albus lupins, faba beans, lupin chips, beverages and horticultural supplies.

Thankfully, while the pandemic is still a cause for major concern for everyone around the world, a truly global event is just around the corner: EXPO 2020 Dubai. It will be the world's largest meeting place and offers many opportunities such as networking and promoting international relationships – a life raft for businesses eager to promote their wares and services in front of untold numbers of potential customers, clients and investors.

GoWA Dubai office intends to promote and project a contemporary image of WA as a great place to visit, study, invest and do business. The WA Government has recently signed its partnership-sponsorship contract with DFAT and is working closely with Austrade to organise WA-focused networking events to promote inward investments, renewable energy and critical minerals, agribusiness, education, and cross-industry sector opportunities. We are focusing on connecting minds and generating maximum added value for Western Australian companies. Expo also coincides with leading trade and exhibition shows such as GITEX, Arab Health, Gulfood and The Big 5, which play crucial roles in promoting WA innovation and extending commercial networks.

As for current trends in the UAE that would be of interest to Western Australia, these include:

MedTech, Digital Health and Health Services

  • The UAE is continuously looking for innovative solutions and technologies in healthcare, such as telemedicine and telehealth solutions, digital health, biotechnology, personalised medicine, decision support tools, automation, simulation and visualisation, data analytics, artificial intelligence, mobile decontamination units and PPE.

Food Security and Agtech

  • The country is also looking to bring Ag innovation into the region, to create a more food and water secure environment. The UAE currently imports about 90% of its food requirements and Western Australia has plenty of desalination expertise in dry climates.  

Clean Energy and Green Tech

  • The UAE’s Energy Strategy 2050 aims to increase the contribution of clean energy in the total energy mix to 50% and reduce the carbon footprint of power generation by 70%, both within the next three decades. As this transition takes place, there will be opportunities for Western Australian businesses to seek partnerships within the UAE, particularly in the areas of battery minerals, renewable technologies and hydrogen.

Western Australia’s State Government’s investment and trade policy initiatives are designed to boost exports and increase inward investment to WA. The strategy encompasses a range of stakeholders across industry and government in a partnership approach to investment and trade in WA. This includes state and federal government departments, the Business Advisory Forum, Business Councils, Chambers of Commerce, various industry Consortia and Industry Associations.

The initiatives in the WA Investment and Trade Plan 2020‑21 reflect a strategic cross-government approach to promoting investment in, and trade with, Western Australia. By delivering the initiatives, the government will continue to be responsive to the conditions that international markets are experiencing due to COVID-19.

Trade between the WA Government and the UAE has historically been incredibly positive and our office in Dubai was established in 2002, in recognition of the increasing export of products and services from Western Australia to the Gulf region. Since its inception, the Western Australian Government has appointed two commissioners and the WA Trade Office has remained in its original location: Emarat Atrium Building, Office 106, Sheikh Zayed Road.

The GoWA Dubai office assumes an important facilitating role in many connections between WA exporters and potential clients in the UAE. It is an important partnership supporting a positive outlook for WA exporters, who are increasingly turning to the UAE for international buyers. There are opportunities for agribusiness investment from the UAE into Western Australia – the UAE’s food security plan includes investing in farms and agricultural technology and enforcing the strictest food safety standards. With the development of agriculture and food production in many areas of the UAE, there are a range of export opportunities for Western Australia’s agrifood businesses and the country is already a market for Western Australia’s vegetables, fruit, meat, wheat, feed barley and pulses.

Western Australia is highly regarded as a provider of quality food and agribusiness commodities and for meeting, and often exceeding, specific customer requirements. It’s also widely acknowledged that the UAE has become a major re-exporting hub and a significant link in the Gulf region’s food chain. Western Australia’s location as the closest Australian state to the Gulf region is a significant advantage to exporters of fresh produce and Perth is strategically located as the nearest Australian city, considered the ‘western gateway to Australia’.

There have been other significant developments between WA and the UAE in recent years, too. For example, in December 2019, Masdar – a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi’s Investment Authority (ADIA), the world’s second largest sovereign wealth fund – acquired a 40% stake in a Western Australian waste-to-energy facility located in the Rockingham Industry Zone, 40km south of Perth. Three years earlier, Al Dahra Abu Dhabi bought a stake in Western Australian animal feed processor, Glenvar Hay. Western Australian investment opportunities remain significant around resources and renewable energy, food security and technology, while infrastructure is another area of interest for the UAE’s Sovereign Wealth Fund.  

As I mentioned earlier, the UAE is a world-famous commercial hub for the region and 70% of its imports are re-exported to other Gulf countries, India and Africa. WA is growing its exports to the UAE on Agri-food (fresh produce, red meat, grain and pulses), minerals, METS and defence. Austal, Western Australia’s global shipbuilder, defence prime contractor and maritime technology, is based in the Gulf and has potential with the UAE’s defence forces. Each year, multiple WA defence companies visit IDEX, Abu Dhabi’s leading international defence exhibition and conference.

As if all that wasn’t good enough, consider that there are well-established education links between Western Australia and the UAE with Murdoch, Curtin and Edith Cowan universities all having a presence here. Western Australia exported $2Bn worth of goods to the United Arab Emirates in 2019-20, well above the annual average of $1.5 billion over the past 10 years. Let’s not forget, either, that the UAE was Western Australia’s 11th largest market for goods exports in 2019-20 and Western Australia accounted for 61% of Australia’s goods exports to the United Arab Emirates in 2019.

The United Arab Emirates was Western Australia’s largest market for alumina exports in 2019-20, actually accounting for 84% of WA’s goods exports to the UAE, followed by wheat (3%) and barley (2%). Additionally the UAE was Western Australia’s largest export market for vegetables, seventh largest market for meat, 10th largest market for petroleum and 14th largest market for wheat in 2019-20.

Plenty of reason, I’m sure you’ll agree, for cheer.

Western Australia’s exports of goods to the United Arab Emirates: Calendar year

(a) Barley was a confidential export item before April 2018.

Source: ABS 5368.0 International Trade in Goods and Services, Australia (Monthly); WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety,

Resource Data Files (Bi-Annual); and WA Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation

Western Australia’s major goods exported to the United Arab Emirates: 2020 calendar year

 

Value ($m)

Share (%)

Annual change (%)

Rank as WA market

Alumina1

1,273

84

-22

1

Wheat

49

3

+15

12

Barley

28

2

+113

7

Vegetables

28

2

+12

1

Meat

22

1

-23

9

All other goods

115

8

-79

 

Total exports

1,515

100

-34

13

1 Includes bauxite.

Source: ABS 5368.0 International Trade in Goods and Services, Australia (Monthly); WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, Resource Data Files (Bi-Annual); and WA Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation

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