Pathways to Exporting – Middle East & North Africa (MENA) – Sunday Times interview

On April 28, the Sunday Times interviewed Simon McKeever on exporting to Middle East & North Africa.

  • Can you outline the opportunity that the Irish Exporters Association believes now exists for Irish companies in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region and why they need to look at this?

Over recent years, the global trading environment has experienced some stagnation. However, Ireland continues to outperform other similar countries, setting a new record for external trade in 2018 with over €140b worth of goods exports globally. While Ireland’s key export markets continue to be the EU, UK, North America and the APEC, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has been long been an interesting growth market for Irish exporting businesses.

However, due to the political uncertainties in the region over the past number of years, economic growth in the Middle East and North Africa has broadly stalled and contracted. According to the CSO, as a result, Irish exports to the wider region have broadly contracted. Despite this, there continues to be significant export opportunities in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel as well Egypt, Iran and Iraq.

  • How does the IEA support Irish companies in terms of exporting into this region?

The IEA supports Irish companies into the MENA region through our Consular Department organising visas and legalisation of documents, providing assistance to Irish exporting businesses through the process. In fact, Saudi Arabia has accounted for 7% of all consular services processed by the IEA in 2018, making it the 4th busiest country.

Our Knowledge Network series of events provide an excellent platform to educate exporters on the opportunities in market and to make connections with the Irish Embassies in market and the foreign Embassies based in Ireland – the latter is particularly apparent at our annual Export Industry Awards each November.

The IEA Certificate in International Trade was launched in March 2019 by the Tánaiste and Combilift’s Martin McVicar. With its first intake on 30th April, it delivers a practical on-the-job qualification to meet the growing skillset required for key people working in international trade operations. An industry-led programme, the 6 Modules include:

  • Import/Export Documentation & Procedures
  • Customs Regulations
  • Customs: Valuation & Origin
  • Tariff Codes & Classification
  • Authorised Economic Operator (AEO)
  • Incoterms & International Contracts


  • Which markets hold the most potential for Irish companies at the moment and why? (any interesting trends/developments)

The Middle East has been an interesting export market for construction and engineering companies as well as for dairy products. While the regional construction boom is somewhat slowing, there continues to be a significant export market in the region.

  • Which sectors are most promising for Irish exporters in the region and why (any interesting trends/developments)

Dairy product, industrial machinery as well as chemicals and pharmaceutical products continue to be the key Irish export sectors to the MENA region. However, there is some divergence across the region depending on competition from indigenous companies, regulations and/or market entry requirements.

  • What advice would you give to any Irish company that is considering exporting to MENA markets? Are there particular challenges they might face?

At the Irish Exporters Association, it us our experience that networking with like-minded companies and doing extensive market research is the foundation to exploring new markets to diversify into. Our services provide companies with a platform to network and the ability to speak and learn directly from other Irish exporters and experts in the particular countries.