An increasing number of UK exporters are looking towards the Middle East and North African (Mena) markets, a survey at GTR’s UK trade and export finance conference in Birmingham finds.

Just over half (51%) of UK-based exporters in attendance now export regularly to Mena, with Dubai and the UAE the overwhelming favourites among those markets for UK firms. 58% of exporters to Mena are exporting to Dubai or other Emirates.

The survey also finds that political uncertainty is the main barrier to trade with the region. 39% of attendees find this to be a central issue, while the risks posed by competition and the imposition of sanctions also rank high among the worries of industry stakeholders.

Crucially, a large number of survey participants (34%) view their prospects of exporting to Mena have deteriorated as a result of the Arab Spring, with few seeing any signs of improvement in the last two years.

Head of UK trade finance marketing at ABC International Bank, David Beeley, told the audience and GTR that growth of the private sector in many Mena markets will be key to increasing market confidence in the region. “Growth will remain constant in Mena if the private sectors grow. But in Mena markets, trade policy and regulation is tightly controlled from central government,” he said.

Anders Larsen, relationship director of corporate and institutional banking at Europe Arab Bank, identified the importance of understanding local systems for conducting business in Mena.

“Mena is not a homogenous region,” he said. “All the markets are different. Dubai shouldn’t be the be all and end all of exporting to Mena, the difficult markets are often worth hanging in there for.”

Former director general of the Middle East Association and former CEO of HSBC Middle East, Matthew Smith, agreed: “The culture is different throughout Mena in that business is born out of personal relationships, not the other way round.”