The trade winds are blowing hot: The exporting opportunities for UK businesses in the UAE

Richard Cuda, Director - Strategic Alliances, International, Santander UK

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has become a major export market for the UK with exports to the UAE outstripping those to major economies such as Japan and India, according to analysis of official UK trade data by Santander Corporate & Commercial.

The country was the 11th most important export market for UK goods in 2015, worth £6.2 billion in 2015 (an increase of 3% over 2014). This compares to the likes of Japan (£4.6 billion in UK exports); India (£4.3 billion) and Australia (£4 billion). Over the three-year period from 2013-2015, the UAE was the fifth-fastest growing export partner, with UK exports up 16%.

The opportunities for UK businesses in the UAE are huge. While more ‘traditional’ UK export markets such as the US, France and Germany may come to mind as primary export targets, UK businesses should consider the UAE as a mainstream market for UK goods and services. The country hosts rich opportunities for exporters and in a diverse range of sectors: oil and gas may be the first industries to come to mind, however, if we look at Dubai, oil and gas contributed less than 3% of its GDP in 2015. 

Indeed, key sectors in terms of opportunities include healthcare, education, environment, aerospace, consumables, and food and drink. The award of the World Expo 2020 ( to Dubai is forecast to boost the economy significantly, which will result in opportunities across many sectors, particularly hospitality and construction.

Made in Britain brand is incredibly powerful
UK businesses can fill this sort of demand. According to the Dubai-based British Centres for Business (BCB), there are significant, tangible opportunities for UK companies in the UAE across a range of sectors.

Santander has set up a partnership with the BCB – a business-to-business professional services company and a member of the Overseas Business Network Initiative – aimed at helping UK businesses seek out exporting opportunities in the UAE and get in contact with prospects. The BCB has first-hand experience of how powerful the “Made in Britain” brand is and continues to be, and urges UK businesses to seriously consider the UAE as a primary export market.

Santander itself believes that the UAE represents a significant opportunity for UK businesses and has increased the number of targeted initiatives it runs around helping UK firms seek out these opportunities. In July this year, for example, Santander organised a UK buyer’s roadshow with Birmingham-based Y International Ltd, the UK buying arm of LuLu Group International, the largest chain of supermarkets across the Middle East.

Y International Ltd has stated that the demand for high-quality UK food and drink products in the Middle East and other territories across the LuLu chain are huge. Indeed, it is so great that the business is significantly expanding its capacity and lines in Birmingham to cater for the regional demand for UK exports.

The bank also took a number of UK businesses on one of its Trade Missions to the UAE in 2014 and 2015. Many of the businesses have since developed significant business relationships and exported as a direct result.

West Sussex-based PVL, for instance, identified the opportunity to sell high visibility safety livery for vehicles in the UAE region, discovering that no-one else was targeting the market and that PVL would have first mover advantage. McGoff & Byrne, a UK based privately owned construction and integrated support services business, opened up a new stream of business for the firm by selling franchise fit-outs to buyers in the region.

A powerful way to drive new revenues
Exporting is a powerful way to drive new revenues, seize new opportunities and take a business to the next level. It is very clear that the UAE has now become a major, increasingly important export market for UK firms, and the momentum is there for the country to become an even more significant trading partner in the future.

While the UAE may seem like a challenging market to many UK businesses, this is not the case. With support from organisations such as the BCB and Santander businesses can find export success there.


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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK