TRADING IN THE MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

By Richard Reynolds, of Atradius UK

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is a key export region and for UK businesses, offers opportunity to expand trade horizons.

The Middle East market in particular is lucrative and fast growing with a rising demand for products and services. The Middle East is of course synonymous with oil but the real success factor for the region has been the diversification away from oil. An educated workforce and entrepreneurial mind-set is pushing growth in numerous sectors. For instance, Kuwait and Oman have invested heavily in entrepreneurship and have even offered retrospective educational loans to Indian workers to encourage enterprise.

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African economies are also fast growing – however this is from a low base.  Export opportunities certainly exist but it is important to understand the trading environment and exporters need to set expectations accordingly.

Changes in political leadership, currency fluctuations and the performance of individual industries in overseas markets all impact the success of trade relationships, and global market intelligence is an essential part of exporting. Accessing quality information is key and is where Trade Credit Insurers can add value. Highlights from our latest report on the MENA region are provided below. Atradius’ Country Reports are available to download from our website and help businesses to better understand the countries they want to do trade with:

Egypt

After the 2013 military coup, Egypt’s economic situation has improved and growth is expected to accelerate due to improved business and consumer confidence alongside rising investments. Reforms launched to improve the business environment such as cutting red tape and improving the legal system are attractive to foreign investors.

The economy is expected to grow by 4% in 2015/16 and improved stability will boost domestic demand. Meanwhile, the government has liberalised its exchange rate regime slightly, allowing the Egyptian pound to depreciate which supports export and tourism growth. This is all good news for exporters.

UAE

The UAE has a major interest in regional stability to encourage and ensure continued trade, foreign direct investment inflow and tourism. To achieve this, it pursues a balanced foreign policy and both political and economic relations with Europe and the US are close.

In Abu Dhabi, government infrastructure investment is expected to continue in the oil, gas and aluminium industries which will support growth. Meanwhile, the rebound of Dubai’s property market after the severe crisis of 2009 is boosting economy activity.

Growth opportunities will come from the World Expo 2020 in Dubai which will support economic growth in the coming years.

Saudi Arabia

The ongoing political turmoil in the Middle East is challenging, with major security problems due to the situation in Iraq and Yemen. Meanwhile,GDP growth is expected to slow to 3% in 2015 following growth of 3.6% in 2014.

A highly oil-dependent economy, accounting for 93% of government revenues, means that a decline in oil prices has a large negative impact on public finances. Despite this, the government passed an expansionary budget for 2015 aimed at preventing political opposition and social unrest. This can be funded by large international reserves, however, a structural shift to a longer term low oil prices would pose a risk for the economy.

Algeria

The political situation in Algeria is stable but potential instability lingers on the horizon. It is uncertain if the aging president will serve his whole term until 2019 and there is no obvious successor.

Algeria is trying to move towards a market economy but, because of its massive oil and gas reserves, its socialist history and many years of civil war, the government still exercises tight control over the economy. The country is still too dependent on the oil sector and needs to diversify further. Government intervention, an under performing banking sector, red tape and corruption still hamper foreign investment and private enterprise initiatives.

Jordan

Jordan’s economic growth is negatively affected by ongoing conflicts in the region. However, economic growth is expected to accelerate from 3.1% in 2014 to 4.3% in 2015, in part boosted by increasing activity in construction from infrastructure and tourism expansion projects.

Private consumption is also expected to sustain growth, despite high unemployment. On the supply side, services and transport will continue to make a key contribution. Highly dependent on energy imports, Jordan benefits from the lower oil price.

Morocco

In 2014, economic growth slowed to 2%, mainly due to a disappointing harvest. The country is still highly dependent on agriculture, which employs 40% of the workforce. For 2015  a rebound in agriculture is anticipated and if realised  an increase in GDP growth of 4.6% could be achieved.

Growth is also sustained by increasing exports, mainly to the Eurozone. The government has increased efforts to diversify the economy by developing industrial manufacturing, especially export-driven sectors such as cars, aeronautics and electronics. Those efforts are increasingly paying off, and exports of those goods are increasing. Economic reforms have lifted efficiency and attracted greater levels of foreign investments.

Tunisia

Tunisia experienced a smooth transition to parliamentary democracy and the economy is expected to grow moderately in 2015 and 2016, supported by increased demand from the Eurozone. However, the security situation remains very unstable following  terrorist attacks  which could  to hit tourism levels and negatively affect economic recovery.

More structural reforms are necessary to accelerate economic growth and to reduce the high unemployment. Tackling bureaucracy, reducing corruption, reforming the tax and subsidy system are necessary to improve the economic conditions. However, given the current political and social conditions, it seems that progress will remain slow for the time being.

Protect yourself

To help mitigate the risks, trade credit insurance is the simplest, most cost effective way to protect businesses against the risks of not getting paid. Atradius not only pays out claims if, for instance, there is an insolvency, currency fluctuation or political risk but customers also benefit from the strength in depth of our knowledge and experience over almost a century of enabling trade.  We support business domestically and overseas; providing expert analysis, risk protection and comprehensive resource to facilitate trade. Our world-wide Collections Service is best in class and is a an integral element of our customer offering. Credit insurance not only protects businesses from the unexpected, but also steers them away from potential risks, allowing businesses to channel their energies towards more profitable opportunities.

Businesses need to take risks in order to grow and growth often begins with a new opportunity in a new market. With the right mind-set, preparation and protection, businesses are poised to take advantage of the wealth of opportunity that international trade offers.

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