Ireland is looking to the aviation, fintech and food industries to drive a 40 per cent increase in exports to the UAE worth about €2 billion (Dh8.61bn) by 2020, the country's deputy prime minister and business minister said.
With Brexit casting doubt on Ireland’s relationship with the United Kingdom, the euro-zone country seeks to lower its trade dependency on Britain, and as a result, predicts increased opportunities with the UAE.
"We have very good business links with the UAE," Frances Fitzgerald told The National. "At present there are 250 Irish companies exporting to the UAE – a total of €1.4bn [worth of trade], which is very good, but in the context of Brexit, we want to diversify.
“We have a target to increase this by 40 per cent by 2020. We’ve already lowered our dependence on the UK market so we have to accelerate that [push to grow trade].
“In terms of Brexit and exports, some of our sectors are very dependent on the UK, so it is those where there will be a lot of opportunity. For example, we see a lot of potential [to import] for the UAE’s food industry specialist products, dairy and beef,” she said.
The aviation industry also presents growth opportunities for Ireland and the UAE. Ireland is a major base for the aircraft leasing industry, home to 14 of the top 15 global lessors including Ireland’s AerCap, which is among the world's biggest aviation leasing firms with some US$41bn in assets, according to its website.
In August Dubai Aerospace Enterprise, the Middle East’s biggest plane-leasing company, became the world's seventh-largest lessor with its acquisition of Dublin-based Awas.
The completion of the deal gave DAE, which is controlled by the Dubai Government, ownership of around 400 aircraft, triple the former number on its books. The company’s new combined fleet has a value of over $14bn.
“Many other aviation-related businesses have sprung up in Ireland based on the strength of the leasing business,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
“The airlines here [the UAE] are world-class and if you get into them, it’s a really good calling card to tap the rest of the world.”
Ireland's trade promotion body led a delegation of 32 companies at Dubai Airshow this week, among them the cabin crew training firm Cut-e, the aerospace logistics company Emerald Aero and the Irish textiles firm Botany Weaving, which announced a contract with Emirates to produce seat covers for its new business-class cabin unveiled this week.
Fintech is another area of focus for Ireland, which, like the UAE, is investing heavily in research and innovation.
Ms Fitzgerald’s comments come at a tense time for Ireland. The Irish border is one of the "divorce issues" the UK must resolve during its negotiations to leave the European Union (EU). The Irish Republic has sought a pledge before Brexit negotiations continue that Ireland will not be divided along its land border with the UK.
However, officials have warned that avoiding a so-called "hard border" between British Northern Ireland and the Republic can only be done if the UK continues to apply the rules of the EU single market, something the UK does not look like remaining a part of.
Ms Fitzgerald said she was pleased with the issues "Ireland has put on the table for consideration" – among them the plea for no hard border.
“The Brexit negotiations are slow at present and we want to make sure our issues our dealt with,” she said. “We can’t threaten the peace in Ireland and we’re saying to the UK, you have to come with some solutions around this.
"It’s unclear what those solutions will be, and it is a very critical time.”