Being in Iran in the middle of an earthquake was a harrowing experience. The tragic loss of life and general destruction was shocking. However, I was very impressed with the calm and professional attitude of our Irani counterparts. I expressed the sympathy of the EU to the people of Iran on the loss of life, which was greatly appreciated by the authorities.
Meanwhile, during our meetings in Saudi Arabia, a different type of earthquake was taking place – this time a political one, as the Crown Prince took steps to consolidate his power. So this was an eventful trade mission to say the very least!
From a political and business point of view, however, these missions were excellent. These are two countries with rapidly growing populations of young, middle-class consumers.
Our delegation, of over 40 European agri-food companies, met with high-level political and business contacts in both countries. There was a clear desire to increase trade and investment opportunities. The type of EU products which should prove very attractive to these markets include poultry and beef meat, dairy, fresh & frozen fruits and vegetables, olive oil, bakery, confectionery and chocolate products, cereals for human use, as well as fodder and cereals for animal use.
Food security is a critical issue in Saudi Arabia, a country in which 80 per cent of the food consumed has to be imported. EU agri-food exports to Saudi Arabia increased from €1.5 to €4.6 billion between 2009 and 2016 - a very positive trend which I am confident we can build on.
In Iran, I also had a number of high-level political meetings which led to significant progress in a number of areas, including the very welcome decision by Iranian authorities to make it easier to export EU beef and sheep meat, by adopting a single health certification system for exports from all EU Member States. I expect that these arrangements will be in place during the first half of 2018, reducing red tape and costs for European exporters.
The success of this mission proves yet again that by assuming the role of global leader in international trade, the EU can generate jobs and growth at home while building strong relationships abroad. It is to be hoped that this message will resonate in those areas of the developed world where the benefits of free and fair rules-based trade appear to have been forgotten.