Appointed last October as Victoria’s Commissioner to the Middle East, Africa and Turkey, Gerard Seeber spends his time cementing connections and strengthening Victoria’s trade and investment links throughout the region.
Gerard aims to make more Victorian businesses aware of the valuable business opportunities on offer across the region. Victoria exported more than $1.7 billion in goods to the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey in 2017-18 and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was Victoria’s fifth-largest market worldwide after China, the US, Japan and Singapore. Six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies are in Africa.
As the former Australian Consul-General in Dubai and Austrade General Manager for the Middle East and Africa, Gerard is well-versed in promoting trade between Victorian business and those abroad.
The region for which Gerard is responsible includes some of Victoria’s most important established trading partners, including members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, as well as key emerging markets for Victorian products and services such as Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana. From a sectoral perspective, the work of the Victorian Government Trade and Investment (VGTI) Office in Dubai focuses on industries key to Victoria’s economic growth, covering food, education, mining equipment, technology and services (METS) as well as technologies in education, health, financial services and agriculture.
The VGTI also works to promote Victoria as an attractive investment destination, raising awareness among partners in the region of Victoria’s vibrant economy, skilled work force and strong record in liveability. Based on expert knowledge of the region, Gerard can offer comprehensive insights into these markets and their geopolitical context. He keeps a watching brief on countries with potential for specific opportunities: for example, Egypt through regulatory change in the mining industry and Russia, if food sanctions are lifted.
Gerard also oversees activities that support Victorian firms to enter or build their customer base in target markets. These include participation in Gulfood in Dubai in February (the world’s largest annual food and beverage trade fair), an Education Technology Mission to Dubai, a FinTech Mission to Dubai, mining conferences and missions to Russia and Kazakhstan, and major international education promotions such as the International Exhibition & Conference on Higher Education (IECHE) in Saudi Arabia, the Study Melbourne Digital Media Campaign in Turkey, and education workshops and seminars in Kenya.
What’s more, Expo 2020 Dubai - expected to attract 25 million visitors and involve over 180 nations - will commence in October next year, with Australia participating through a major pavilion and business program. This global event will present a range of opportunities for Victorian companies throughout 2020-2021. Inbound event programs are supported through Gerard’s office as well, such as to the sixth annual International Resources and Mining Conference (IMARC) to be held in Melbourne this October.
Helping Victorian businesses get a slice of the pie
Gerard works closely with other stakeholders in the region - such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Austrade, local Australian Business Councils, the Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AACCI) and other business groups in Australia. His network is crucial to delivering programs and promoting the region to the Victorian business community. "Those connections are critical to foster broader collaboration and to include in Australia’s messaging the specifics about Victoria’s role in trade with the Middle East," Gerard explains.
In particular, food has been a strong export performer over recent years, so promoting Victorian produce is a core component of Gerard’s activities in the region, starting each year with Gulfood in February. Quality and reliability of supply make Victoria a natural partner where food security and food safety are priorities for national governments.
Gerard’s best advice for Victorian companies keen to mark their mark in the Middle East, Africa and Turkey is to "understand the region. It’s complicated with volatile geo-politics and a varied cultural mix. Oil price and geo-politics can have a direct impact on business."
"Spend time in the region, too, as face-to-face contact is vital in local business cultures," he adds. "Victoria, and more broadly Australia, is well represented in the region, so use these networks and programs to enhance your activities here."
A day in the life
Gerard’s time is split between the Victorian Government Trade and Investment office, which is in the Dubai International Financial Centre and work in the broader region.
"Time in Dubai is spent engaging with the broader business and government network in the UAE as it’s a hub for Australian trade and investment representation for the Middle East and Africa.
"Across the region, it’s about undertaking business development, promotional and network building programs and reinforcing Victoria’s relationships with key customers and Australian Government networks."