A delegation representing 82 businesses has left Australia to promote trade in the Middle East.
The delegation is part of the Australian Government’s major trade and investment promotion initiative, Australia Unlimited Middle East and North Africa 2016 (AU MENA 2016).
AU MENA will be held between January 24 and February 1 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Minister for Tourism and International Education Senator Richard Colbeck will lead the Australian commercial delegation of 82 Australian firms to meet with Middle Eastern business and government counterparts in key areas of health, education, tourism and sport.
Senator Colbeck, who is also the Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment, says the MENA region is an important export market for Australian firms – and a major source of foreign investment. Two-way trade is worth $15 billion a year.
There are over 450 Australian companies and more than 30,000 Australians in the Persian Gulf alone and exports to the region are growing strongly.
“Australia has a good reputation in the Middle East as a healthy and safe food producer and this delegation will help Australian companies to promote our quality produce,” Senator Colbeck said in a statement.
“The ongoing Free Trade Agreement negotiations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, which re-commenced in 2014, will be discussed and I will be working hard to overcome some of the barriers to finalising this agreement.”
Australia’s expertise in event management for sport will also be a theme of AU MENA.
Senator Colbeck will visit Qatar to meet officials and business people associated with the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The UAE will host the AFC Asian Cup 2019 and Senator Colbeck will officially hand over the Cup to the UAE on behalf of the government. Australia successfully hosted the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.
Senator Colbeck said a key focus of AU MENA would be the ways in which Australian health care services firms can help MENA countries cope with growing demand for health services. This includes the introduction of compulsory medical insurance, the spread of lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes and medical tourism.
Opportunities for education and training providers
Total health care spending in the MENA region is forecast to reach US$144 billion by 2020 and US$69 billion in the nations of the GCC.
Senator Colbeck said the need to enhance skill levels in the health care sector offers opportunities for Australian education and training providers.
International Education has been identified as one of five key growth industries for Australia and the MENA region has been identified as an important source market.
There are already more than 26,000 students from the GCC and Morocco studying in Australia and several Australian universities have a presence in the region.
Senator Colbeck says there is a great opportunity for Australia to build on this.
Meeting with airline executives
The Middle East is also an important aviation hub and there has been a dramatic increase in tourism and freight capacity between Australia and the region.
Five airlines now offer 147 direct return flights a week between the UAE and Qatar, and Australia.
Senator Colbeck will meet with airline executives to discuss ways to continue the growth.
In 2014-15 there were 69,250 visitors to Australia from the GCC nations and about 320,000 Australian tourists visit the UAE every year.