Middle East expert who hopes to build bridges with Humber

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AN EXPERT on the Middle East and North Africa who was the UK ambassador to Libya until last year has taken up a post helping businesses in Hull, Humber, Yorkshire and beyond to boost their international trade links.

Richard Northern MBE worked in Libya for a year as part of a 35-year career in international relations, giving him a valuable perspective on the way the region works and how it could trade with UK businesses.

He is now taking up a role with Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce, offering guidance to companies hoping to do business in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Towards the end of 2011 I decided to leave and go into business,” he said.

“I had a number of contacts with companies that have been active in the Middle East. The Hull Chamber got in touch with me in September when they were planning to hold an event about trade in Libya for the region and they needed a speaker. That was the start of a relationship.”

Mr Northern is not the only high profile appointment to the chamber. He will be joined by Martin Tabbitt, managing director of worldwide grocery distributor Kingstown Trading Ltd, who will be advising on the process of importing and exporting in the food and drink sector.

Pauline Wade, director of Hull and Humber Chamber’s international trade centre, said: “Richard is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading experts on doing business in the Middle East and North Africa, and given the rapid speed at which the region is developing he brings knowledge to the chamber that would be very difficult to access elsewhere.

“Martin brings a wealth of experience in the food and drink sector, as well as in depth knowledge of exporting, so offers real value to businesses looking to trade outside the UK for the first time, or those wanting to grow their export sales.”

Although links between Hull and countries like Libya may at first seem unusual, many companies in the region already trade there.

Mrs Wade added: “The Middle East market is good for the UK and the North African market is developing.

“There are many trade missions going out there, but some of the participants are from much bigger companies with support in Libya, or who have worked there before.

“For smaller businesses – especially SMEs – that can trade there and see opportunity there, the hand-holding (which Mr Northern and Mr Tabbitt can offer) should give them a good deal of comfort.”

That comfort is much needed when dealing with countries like Libya, which has seen a great deal of instability and change over recent months and years.

However, Mr Northern – who was involved in helping British nationals to leave the country in February 2011 before being evacuated himself – said there is now a great deal of opportunity to set up new trade links with the region. He praised the chamber’s plans for a trade mission in March, allowing those who hope to make contact with Libya to do so in a planned, safe way.

“I think the timing of this initiative is very good – they are looking at the right places at the right time,” he said. “This seems a particularly well-organised idea and they are very experienced at this kind of thing.”

The chamber is already well known for its strength in international trade, boosted by its proximity to the port at Hull. It hopes that the two new appointments will further strengthen its reputation and could help businesses across Yorkshire, as well as encouraging others to set up in the region.