How to export to the United Arab Emirates

UK exports to the UAE increased significantly between 2012 and 2013, what was behind this trend?

The increase in exports has been across a broad range of sectors. These include food and drink, wood, textiles, iron and steel, inorganic chemicals, machinery, vehicles, telecoms equipment and much more. Also, the drive to diversify the economy away from oil and gas and fossil fuels has opened up opportunities in infrastructure, leisure and tourism and much more for companies both large and small.

What role do SMEs play in these exports and how has this changed over the last few years?

SMEs play a crucial role. We estimate that 50 per cent of the UAE economy is made up of SMEs. There are around 120,000 British Nationals in the UAE and over 5,000 British businesses trading in the Emirates. The UAE is well known to British citizens who either live here, transit through the Dubai and Abu Dhabi hubs, or come here on holiday.

What are the biggest difficulties for small business exporting to the UAE?

There are two big difficulties – firstly some companies come here totally unprepared. They’ve not done their homework and have no idea whether their product or service will work in the Emirates. Do your homework, figure out your USP – what differentiates your company from the others – and be prepared to spend time in the market. The key to success is building relationships.

The other [difficulty] is understanding local laws and requirements; how to set up a company; where you should have an office and if this should be on shore, off shore or in a duty free zone; and how to work with a local partner. To do all that, you need good advice – and there are no short cuts. UKTI can help with all of this and we encourage businesses considering setting up to get in touch.

How would you suggest companies start their research when thinking about exporting to the UAE?

I would advise three things – do some desk research to ascertain whether there is a market for your product. Seek out advice from UKTI, either in the UK through an International Trade Advisor or through the desk here in the UAE. That advice could be anything from a short e-mail to commissioning market research through our OMIS [Overseas Market Introduction Service] system. Finally, visit the market. There is nothing to beat coming here and seeing the market for yourself.

What sectors are important for SMEs?

SMEs in the UAE work across a wide range of sectors. The two that spring to mind most readily are retail, and food and drink. They are the most visible with British goods readily available in most shops and supermarkets. But that’s not all. SMEs work across a wide range of sectors including financial and professional, education, sport and much more.

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