A 60-strong delegation has accompanied the minister on his visit, representing a range of food and agri services companies, as well as key state agencies. The aim of the mission is to build closer commercial links between Irish and local businesses, and to develop relationships with key government ministries and agencies in this critically important target region for Irish exports.
Speaking before the visit, Coveney said: "This visit is about further developing an already strong and mutually beneficial relationship between Ireland and the Gulf States. In particular I want to raise the profile of Ireland not only as a provider of the highest quality food and ingredients in the world, but also as a source of technical expertise and services in the agri-food sector.
“There are strong and obvious synergies between the food security policy objectives of this region and Ireland’s Food Harvest plan for the expansion and development of its agri-food sector. Almost 90% of the food consumed in this region is imported and Ireland’s strong sustainability credentials in agri-food and the sector’s significant potential for expansion make it an ideal partner for Gulf countries whose demand for high food is increasing."
And the trip appears to be bearing fruit already, as one of the key state agencies joining the delegation - Ireland's food export agency, Bord Bia - revealed its future plans on only the second day of the trade mission. The company announced its intention to open an office in Dubai in January 2014, to support exports to the Middle East.
Food exports to the Gulf States amounted to almost €200m in 2012 and Bord Bia estimates that there is potential to double that figure by 2020. While Bord Bia has worked with local resources for a number of years in the region, the new office will focus on Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and the Gulf States, in addition to "monitoring potential opportunities" in Iran, Iraq and Jordan.
Coveney added: "This new office will provide a practical solution for Irish companies seeking to enter the market by providing access to market knowledge, insight and research."