The pandemic has given us all the opportunity to reflect on the type of society and economy we want after Covid-19. The impact of the virus has been devastating. It has also caused us to question our usual ways of doing things and the future we want to create for the next generation.
For Ireland, the UK’s decision to leave the EU has also had a seismic impact on our economy and society. We have had to adapt accordingly, particularly our agrifood sector, which is recognised globally for its quality, but which has also traditionally had particularly strong trading ties with our nearest neighbour.
As we look to the future, the Gulf, in particular the UAE and the Saudi Arabia, is strategically very important for Ireland. We have already seen significant growth in exports to both countries over the past year, by 12 per cent and 6 per cent respectively. We want this to continue as we create stronger ties between our countries.
Given this objective, I am currently in the UAE as part of a major trade mission, the largest one we have taken this year, signalling the importance of the region for us and the potential we see for the future.
Coinciding with my visit is another important event, the Dubai Airshow, the only global aviation and aerospace event held this year. Through our Irish Aviation House, which will have a bigger presence at the show than in previous years, we are convening several senior airline executives from the region and Africa to discuss how Ireland can support their recovery effort. The sector, one of the most disrupted by the pandemic, is focused on recovery and this event comes at a crucial time as it focuses on restoring confidence among passengers looking to return to the skies.
Ireland is a world leader in aerospace and aviation. Today, our country commands around 60 per cent of the global leasing market, with more than 50 aircraft leasing companies present on the island, including 14 of the world’s top 15 lessors. Every time you look up and see a plane overhead, there is a good chance it has been leased out of Ireland. Irish companies are creating specialist solutions for the industry in the Gulf region and indeed globally, helping drive growth, efficiency and revenue through innovation and ingenuity. In Saudi Arabia, the Irish company DAA International, which has operated Terminal Five of King Khalid International Airport since 2016, has recently been awarded a prestigious contract to operate the new Red Sea International Airport.
Indeed, as part of my trip to the region I also visited Saudi Arabia and saw for myself the pace of change that is under way. Irish companies in a range of sectors are looking to do business in the kingdom and contribute to the ambition of its Vision 2030 strategic framework. Many are already working with businesses based here, from food production and fintech, to health care and the equine sector. Ireland is known for the racehorses and sport horses we produce and I particularly enjoyed my visit to the Jockey Club in Riyadh, where a number of Irish companies joined me at an event held to explore ways for greater collaboration.
This collaboration comes in the form of Irish companies such as Equine MediRecord who are helping to provide the international integrity for the Grade 1 Saudi Cup on the elite worldwide circuit for horse racing. Equine MediRecord’s platform allows for the full veterinary history of the horse to be recorded securely, ensuring the best possible horse welfare as well as aiding crucial anti-doping procedures. Extensive anti-doping and animal welfare measures have been brought in for the Saudi Cup 2022, and Equine Medirecord’s system ensures entrants, trainers and vets have a system in place to comply with such measures, while simultaneously collecting the data digitally.
I hope this trade mission demonstrates Ireland’s intent to strengthen trade ties with countries in the Gulf region and highlights the opportunities that exist in doing so. Irish companies have the expertise, commitment and creativity to help bring the future ambitions of the Gulf states to life and I look forward to a future of closer collaboration between our countries.
Leo Varadkar is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment in the Government of Ireland