I’ve spent much of the last month travelling in the MENA region, in Egypt (recovering from the depressing attack on Coptic citizens), in Saudi Arabia (crowded with the Hajj pilgrims), and in Morocco (busy with tourists).
Western visitors were notable by their absence in Jeddah, where the souk was predominantly thronging with locals – much more so than would have been the case a few years ago – and in stark contrast to Marrakech. This definitely has a downward effect on prices and possibly even depresses the requirement to haggle!
What was also notable was the number of companies I met with who pointed out the continued lack of US exporters visiting them, contrasting this to the almost daily visits from potential suppliers and partners based in Europe, Asia, Oceania etc. Yet the Kingdom cannot be ignored, given its scale and pace of development.
The food industry is certainly benefitting, with the country offering potential as a regional manufacturing base. Witness the Mead Johnson deal with Almarai, or the comments of one of the leading Middle Eastern confectionery producers on the attractive local operating costs: “Our factory in Saudi Arabia is three times bigger than the one we have here, but the electricity bill that we pay in Saudi Arabia does not exceed $5,000 per month, while in Lebanon we pay over $50,000 on electricity.”
The level of change in region overall is evident. Iraq, and now Libya, are rebuilding after descending into chaos. Egypt is also rebuilding after what one of my local partners referred to as a “highly embarrassing 30 years”, and now seems a likely candidate to enter the GCC. At a macro level these events are well covered in the media, but the implications of such changes need to be monitored on the ground if opportunities are not to be missed.
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