Demand for salmon and other luxury goods is helping to boost Scottish exports to the Middle East.
Middle East hooked on Scottish salmon
A growing appetite for Scottish smoked salmon and other luxury produce from north of the English border is helping to propel a surge in exports from Scotland to the Middle East.
One Scottish salmon exporter hopes to treble its business to the region this year.
Disease affecting rival Chilean stocks last year helped Scotland overtake the South American country to become the world's second-biggest exporter of the fish.
"Luxury, quality and food safety is a big issue in terms of accreditation standards and expertise and there are opportunities for Scotland in this area," said Dr Lena Wilson, the chief executive of Scottish Development International, an agency formed by the Scottish government to spur foreign direct investment.
The country is looking to focus expansion on food as well as health care, education, engineering, renewable energy and wealth management.
Overall exports from Scotland to the Middle East almost doubled to £410 million (Dh2.45 billion) from £250m between 2006 and 2009. Exports dipped slightly last year but are expected to pick up again this year.
A third of the 20 Scottish companies involved in a visit to the region last week were food producers. A further 10 exhibited at the recent Gulfood exhibition in Dubai.
"We are putting a lot more efforts into the region as we see a lot of opportunities for growth," said Brendan James Maher, the owner of St James Smokehouse, based in Annan, Dumfriesshire.
The company hopes to increase its shipments to the region by between 200 and 300 per cent to as many as 60 deliveries a year. It already exports to the UAE and Egypt but is hopeful of new contracts with suppliers of hotels in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Lebanon.
"We have experienced massive demand," said Mr Maher. "Some of that is down to the problems with Chilean [disease] wiping out 80 per cent of their salmon."
Chile was forced to remove its salmon from sale in international markets after outbreaks of diseases at some fish farms two years ago. The problems helped stoke strong sales for Scottish and Norwegian producers. Norway is the world's leading exporter of the fish.
Scottish farmed salmon was the first fish and the first non-French product to receive the prestigious Label Rouge award for quality in 1992.
Demand is also strengthening for Scottish langoustine, red meat, shortbread and bottled water. Highland Spring, the Scottish supplier of bottled water, is owned by Mahdi al Tajir, the billionaire UAE businessman.
During last week's visit, companies were able to meet regional representatives of GlobalScot network ofScottish expatriates in leading roles with international business.
The Middle East chapter of the community has doubled to 30 members in the past two years, and they offer advice on subjects including marketing strategy and how to source Arabic labels for food, among other things.
Scottish Development International opened a full-time office in Dubai two years ago.
It is encouraging Scottish companies to pursue export-led growth during a time when domestic government austerity measures are expected to weigh on demand at home.
The agency also has a budget from the Scottish government as well as other revenues, so it has not been affected by the plans to scrap regional development agencies in England.
"We are encouraging the whole Scottish business base to be more international thinking," said Dr Wilson, who is also the chief executive of Scottish Enterprise, a partner organisation aimed at stimulating Scottish economic growth.