Business is booming between Ireland and the Middle East. The Arab-Irish Business Forum held in Dublin this week heard that the rapidly growing economies and populations in the Arab world have a growing appetite for Irish goods.

Last year, Irish exports to the 22 countries in the Arab market reached an all-time high of almost €3 billion, an increase of 23 per cent on 2021 figures. The figure for the first half of this year was €1.46 billion.

So what are they buying? The easy assumption might be food products given the regular focus on opening up new markets for Irish meat. But not so.

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Emirates country manager Anita Thomas lifted the lid on what can be found in the cargo hold of daily flights between Dublin and the Middle East.

Botox is top of the list, she says, followed by pharmaceuticals, fresh foodstuffs, baby milk powder, and Pepsi concentrate.

And then there’s the eclectic, such as “falcons coming up from Tipperary and over to the UAE … and we had 61 horses fly out of Shannon Airport earlier this year,” she added.

Just under a third of all exports to Arab countries in the first half of the year was to Saudi Arabia, totalling €464 million. But it’s not just things that we export to the country.

‘Donegal of Saudi’

Streaming at the Dublin forum live from his newest venture Neom, ex-Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons said it was a “really exciting time to be in this part of the world”.

Having left his position at the Irish tourism body in March, Gibbons moved to what he says is the “Donegal of Saudi” to promote a new $500 billion (€468.25 billion) desert metropolis being built on 26,500sq km of territory near the Red Sea coast.

Mr Gibbons told the forum that Neom is the “jewel in the crown” of Saudi Arabia’s plans to drive tourism in the region and that there is “plenty of opportunity” for Irish businesses looking to get involved.