Belfast Telegraph

Middle East company bought up by Northern Ireland trade advisors

Office will help firms break UAE market

By Margaret Canning

A Northern Ireland firm is set to help companies conquer markets in the Middle East as the business world reacts to news of the timing of Article 50.

Prime Minister Theresa May said Article 50 would be triggered next Wednesday, March 29, starting a two-year period of talks before the UK leaves the EU.

Mark O'Connell, chief executive of global trade and investment specialists OCO Global, said the announcement brought certainty for firms preparing for the future.

Business Telegraph can reveal that his Belfast-based firm has bought the British Business Centre in Dubai, from British Business Group, United Arab Emirates.

OCO already has offices in the US, France, Germany and Japan.

Mr O'Connell said the business would introduce firms from Northern Ireland and Great Britain to the Gulf marketplace. Already Northern Ireland companies such as Ulster Carpets, Mash Direct and fit-out specialist Deluxe Group have won significant business in the Middle East.

And Mr O'Connell said the market was a good one for firms to target in a post-Brexit era.

"UAE has been a significant trade/logistical hub between east and west for many years. Increasingly the Emirates has asserted its influence on global trade with its ambitious foreign direct investment attraction policies, investment in world class infrastructure, and Dubai offers a model of stability and good governance in a challenging region of the world.

"Major international trade shows such as Arab Health and Dubai Air Show, defence conference and IDEX and oil and gas exhibition ADIPEC are now firmly established and attracting companies from all over the world, not just the region and our clients expect us to be there on the ground and support their pipeline and business development efforts."

It comes as a survey by the Federation of Small Business (FSB) today said access to the EU single market is still the top priority for 63% of small businesses. One in four said they'd be deterred from trading with the EU if tariffs were introduced - even if tariffs were as low as 4%. Just under 60% said they found the EU single market easier to deal with than other non-EU markets.

Law firm Tughans advised on the deal to buy the British Centre for Business.

Mr O’Connell said the deal made sense in the context of changes in economic policy in the Middle East. “Many of the Middle East economies are dialling up economic development policies to attract new investment, reduce dependence on petrochemical industries, and offer their young educated people opportunities to work for international firms. We hope to support their journey and are already working with the governments of Ras al Khaimah, Bahrain and Saudi to advance these ambitions. And lastly in the wake of Brexit, we anticipate an uptick in British firms taking an interest in the region to diversify their geographical spread and take advantage of the buoyant and growing demands of the region.”

Northern Ireland business organisations reacted to the Prime Minister’s announcement that Article 50 would be triggered next Wednesday. Angela McGowan, CBI regional director, said: “Businesses here will be looking for real signs of momentum early on.

“Making sure the talks get off to a good start will be vital to securing a deal that delivers for both sides. Make no mistake, the next six months are crucial for the country’s future prosperity, which is why the Northern Ireland’s business voice must be heard.”  And she said a ‘no deal’ outcome would open a “Pandora’s Box” of economic consequences.

“Businesses therefore want to see some ‘early wins’ that will help them and their customers maintain the confidence that has helped the UK economy confound expectations since the EU Referendum outcome.”

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