Grains, cars and meat. The Australian “brand” in the Middle East has long been defined by these three sectors.
Making up the bulk of Australia’s exports to the six GCC countries, they have been the Australian staple in a two-way trade relationship worth $12bn after rising 20 percent in 2012-13, with crude petroleum and fertilisers accounting for the majority of exports from the GCC end.
However, last year’s landmark alliance between national carrier Qantas and Emirates — boosting the number of flights to 98 a week between Dubai and Australia alone, and overall Gulf weekly air links, including through Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, now numbering 140 flights — is being viewed as a step-change in trade relations, with the Australian government now singling out the Gulf as its fourth most important trade partner after the “big three” of China, Japan and South Korea.
“For a long time Australia benefited from a very low profile to quite a rapid growth in the relationship with the GCC countries, particularly the UAE, which was driven largely by increased flights,” Australia’s ambassador to the UAE, Pablo Kang, tells Arabian Business.
“We’re sort of in a situation where that’s been good. [But] then we’ve seen a lot of competition now, particularly coming from Europe where with the global financial crisis a lot of countries in Europe have gone into recession, unemployment is on the rise, a lot of the big European companies are looking for work outside their own country, so competition is much greater than it was, say, maybe ten years ago for Australian companies.”
Responding to this trend and in a bid to boost its own country’s profile and not just rely on a “feel-good factor” about Australia, as Kang puts it, Australia has upped the ante in its trade marketing drive in a bid to promote itself as a reliable trade partner and key investment choice.
Under the banner of the wider Australia Unlimited brand, its MENA trade road show has grown from just one city, Dubai, in the pilot year in 2013 to six cities, including Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Muscat, Kuwait City and Rabat in Morocco in the second event last month, alongside a concurrent Food, Water, Energy Nexus policy forum exploring interconnections and parallels and potential areas of co-operation in these fields.
It’s Australia’s largest-ever promotional campaign in the region, with 150 local companies involved, and represents what Australian Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb says is a genuine effort to take Australia’s relationship with the Gulf to a new level as it drives home the message that it’s “open for business”.
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