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A high-powered delegation from Arab countries chose the North East and Tees Valley as the first ever English region to visit for a business fact-finding mission.

During the tour, companies, universities and business support organisations met Ambassadors and senior Diplomats from ten 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 Darlington, Durham and Newcastle.

Led by the most senior foreign diplomat in the UK, Ambassador Al-Duwaisan of Kuwait, the London-based visitors were briefed on the economic landscape and business opportunities throughout Tees Valley and the North East region.

They also were able to raise the Arab countries’ profile and boost trade links.

An online information hub called Arab Info North, which will signpost people in the North East of England to access information, research and trade support resources with the Arab countries, was launched during the tour.

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 (C-STATE).

This is a collaboration between Modus Subsea Interventions and the college, and is the first of its kind created to address the growing skills gap in the subsea engineering and service sectors. The party also heard about remote operated subsea vehicles.

Next on the itinerary was Durham University, where there was an exhibition in the Castle focusing on the work and achievements of the region’s universities. Durham University hosts the al-Sabah research programme on international relations.

The fact-finding mission concluded at the Institute of Transplantation at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, where the emphasis was on the North East’s world leading and innovative approach to healthcare, such as bio and nano-technology, and its centres of excellence for transplantation.

Stephen Catchpole, Managing Director of Tees Valley Unlimited, the Local Enterprise Partnership for Tees Valley, said: “The size, breadth and seniority of this high-powered delegation demonstrated the level of interest there was in forging trading links with Tees Valley and the wider region.

“The region is an essential cog in UK plc and it is vital that we establish relationships with markets worldwide that can benefit the economic wellbeing of Tees Valley and the North East.”

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, added “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.”

Since the introduction of the daily direct Emirates flights between Newcastle and Dubai in 2007, more than one million passengers and millions of pounds worth of freight have used the Middle East connection to link markets across Africa and Asia with North East England.

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.

Future visits are planned as part of a legacy programme to build on the links that were forged during the visit.

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