Freelance writer Delaney Seiferling filed this report from Gulfood, the world’s largest annual food show held in Dubai. For a related story, see page 84.
Arab & India Spices, a United Arab Emirates company that imports and processes commodities, recently celebrated its 30th anniversary on a rooftop overlooking the bright lights of Dubai’s skyline.
The company has become Dubai’s largest pulse processor with a capacity of more than 15,000 tonnes a month. It is also the biggest importer of Canadian pulse crops into the UAE at 60,000 to 70,000 tonnes a year.
Managing director Harish Tahiliani said this important relationship with Canada has been critical in the company’s success and underscores the growing importance of Dubai as an emerging market for Canadian agriculture exports.
“Canada and Dubai have shared a healthy relation for years, and this will continue because lentils are mainly consumed in this region, the Middle East,” said Tahiliani. “Muslim people consume a lot of pulses, and there isn’t any other origin which can suffice the requirement of the Middle East.”
Tahiliani’s father, an Indian who founded the company in 1986, was an early predictor of the potential growth in demand for regions serviced by Dubai. In 1990 he started processing lentils, the first company in the Middle East to do so outside of India.
“My father was a regular visitor of UAE. One of my relatives was married here so my father used to visit her,” Tahiliani said.
“He saw the potential in this market, and after commissioning one line of lentils, he saw there was a huge demand coming, so we started increasing the lines.”
The company grew from its origins as a four-person staff in a 4,000 sq. foot facility to a 700 person staff in a 400,000 sq. foot plant processing 14 line of lentils and peas.
At the same time, Canada’s agricultural exports to Dubai have also increased.
It exported 223,889 tonnes of lentils to UAE in 2014-15, up from 117,355 tonnes in 2013-14 and 110,658 tonnes in 2012-13.
Canola exports are on track to be a record this year, up from 343,983 tonnes in 2014-15 and, 273,944 tonnes in 2013-14.
Wheat exports to the region are also significant, averaging 300,000 tonnes a year in recent years.
Tahiliani said Dubai is considered one of the most important business hubs in the Middle East and is the third largest export-re-export centre in the world, following Singapore and Hong Kong.
Its pro-business environment has attracted many companies such as Arab & India Spices.
“The government here is very flexible,” he said. “We do not have any obligations like in other nearby countries in the Middle East.”
Dubai’s key advantages include no foreign exchange controls, trade quotas and barriers and no tax on corporate profits and personal income. Customs duties are also low or non-existing, and 100 percent repatriation of capital and profits is permitted.
These regulations, combined with the state’s central location as an export hub and access to more than 120 shipping lines and 85 airlines, make it an ideal centre for re-exports. The government re-ports that international trade has grown by more than 11 percent per year since 1988.
Tahiliani said re-exports are a major focus for Arab & India Spices because political unrest in neigh-bouring countries such as Sudan and Iraq has driven demand. The countries, once served by Turkey, now look to Dubai for stability.
“We are getting the benefit of that. All the demand is now diverted to Dubai and because of this Dubai has become the hub of business and transport as well.”
Dubai itself has become a growing market. The population is 2.5 million, which the government expects will increase to 3.4 million by 2020.
Tahiliani said all of this translates into increasing demand for Canadian product. He expects the company’s imports from Canada will increase 10 to 15 percent this year and in the years ahead.
“Canada’s reputation is good,” he said. “We’ve never had any issue with any supplier. They have been very trustworthy and we can rely on them.”