x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

'Super trade mission' from Down Under

The Life: More than 100 organisations from Australia are set to descend in the Gulf today as part of a "super" trade mission. Here is how their executives aim to boost trade with this region.

John Khoury of Aconex says a good portion of its global business is generated by the Middle East. Antonie Robertson / The National
John Khoury of Aconex says a good portion of its global business is generated by the Middle East. Antonie Robertson / The National

Once David Rose gets to the Emirates this week, expect to find him browsing the dessert aisles of local grocery stores.

His plan is to scrutinise the sweets that shoppers select in preference to his Ddesserts brand of chocolate mousse, vanilla cheesecake and tiramisu.

Mr Rose is the managing director of Exquisine, a dessert maker in Australia that he says generates A$6 million (Dh23.5m) a year.pabl

Exquisine is among more than 100 organisations in the largest Australian trade mission ever to visit the Middle East.

The group will meet business representatives in Qatar today and arrive in the Emirates later this week for similar networking.

Some of the companies will also be part of a side mission to Saudi Arabia.

"We're looking to enter negotiations, maybe with airlines, caterers or restaurants that want to have [desserts] designed for them," says Mr Rose, who aims to expand his company's earnings in the Middle East from 30 to 50 per cent of its total after this trip.

"I'll bring samples, have a face-to-face meeting and take it from there."

Officials from the Australian state of Victoria are behind what they are calling a "super trade mission" designed to boost commercial links between the regions. Some Australian businesses are showing themselves in the Gulf for the first time, while others - including Exquisine - are trying to expand an existing presence in the Emirates to a wider area.

"The UAE is so much of a regional hub for a lot of other potential markets," says Pablo Kang, Australia's ambassador to the UAE and Qatar.

While some of the visiting companies represent activities such as infrastructure-building and agribusiness, about 80 are from the food and beverage market and will showcase products at Gulfood, an annual exhibition that starts in Dubai on Sunday.

Last year, A$830mof food and beverages was imported into the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) from Victoria, according to the state's business office.

"The Mena region, and particularly the UAE, is an important market for Victoria," says John Butler, the state of Victoria's commissioner to Mena.

"The UAE is our 13th-largest export market in the world for Victoria, and growing."

Aconex, which sells software for online project management in the construction industry, was initially attracted to this region through Dubai's construction boom in 2005. It has since expanded in the region, with offices in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

While Aconex's workforce in the Gulf has dropped from a peak of 130 to 80, it started with just two workers, says John Khoury, the company's regional director for the Middle East. About 20 per cent of its global business is still generated by the Middle East, Mr Khoury says.

Even though Aconex knows this region well, being a part of Victoria's trade mission is "quite useful in networking and building relationships", he says.

"You have high-level meetings with senior people," he adds. "They serve as great introductory meetings to a lot of large companies, so when we do go back and see them again, we have a face to the name and are able to generate business through that."

Yet business executives on a fast tour through the region for the first time should not expect that their products will quickly enter the market and start flying off store shelves.

Bega Cheese, Australia's largest listed dairy company, churns out tens of thousands of tonnes of processed, jarred and natural cheese each year. The operation, which dates back to 1899, earns between A$40m and A$50m of its annual revenue from the Middle East. The company forecasts that its total revenue this year will climb to A$1 billion.

While the proportion of Bega Cheese's revenue earned from this region has grown since the company entered the market here nearly 15 years ago, the experience has not been without difficulty.

"The biggest challenge is the very long, slow process of building your brand recognition in the market," says Aidan Coleman, Bega Cheese's chief executive.

Mr Coleman has come on the trade mission to meet key distributors face-to-face.

"I think it's very important to reconfirm our commitment to the market," he says. "It also gives me a first-hand opportunity to look on [store] shelves in terms of arranging and what our competitors are doing."


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