A high-powered delegation from 10 Arab countries has chosen the North East as the first English region to visit for a business fact-finding mission.
Companies, universities and business support organisations from the region met ambassadors and senior diplomats from a range of Arab countries, plus senior officials from the Arab League and the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce.
The envoys had never before visited an English region as a group, and were invited to spend a day seeing industry and research work at centres in Newcastle, Durham and Darlington.
Led by the Kuwaiti ambassador to the UK, Khaled Abdulaziz Al-Duwaisan, the visitors were briefed on investment opportunities in the North East and the possibilities of trade links with the region.
North East businesspeople including Sir John Hall and SMD boss Andrew Hodgson were among the regional figures at the event.
Bob Paton, interim chief executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “This fact-finding mission afforded the opportunity to demonstrate the many strengths that the region has as a world-class business destination.
“Through the presentations, discussions and tours we have been able to build stronger relationships that will open new doors to attracting more foreign inward investment and also go give our home-grown companies and research and development organisations a bigger overseas platform.”
Businessman Aidan Stradling, one of the organisers of the visit, said: “At a time when we seem to be getting nothing but bad news from Arab countries, it is good to focus on some of the opportunities and success stories, such as the al-Sabah research centre at Durham University, investment from Saudi company SABIC on Teesside, and the chance for our region’s top medical and scientific experts to work with partners in these countries.”
The delegation visited Teesside University’s Darlington campus, where it was given a presentation on Tees Valley’s key industries and then went on to Darlington College to see the Centre for Subsea Technology Awareness, Training and Education.
The delegates also visited Durham University and the Institute of Transplantation at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle.
Since the introduction of the daily direct Emirates flights between Newcastle and Dubai in 2007, more than a million passengers and millions of pounds worth of freight have used the Middle East connection to link markets across Africa and Asia with the North East.
Dr Afnan Al-Shuaiby, secretary general of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, said: “It is very interesting to come to the region because there’s a lot of work that needs to be done and there’s a lot of potential that we, as Arab countries, can benefit from. But, also, this region can benefit from the partnership with the Arab countries.
“I hope by the end of this visit that something fruitful will come out of it. We will definitely make sure that we are following up and we will see some good success stories.”
The delegation comprised the ambassadors of Algeria, Kuwait, Mauritania, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Sudan, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, a counsellor from Kuwait, the Secretary General of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, and Director and officials from the Arab League Office in London.