Countries and companies in the Gulf region have been urged to invest in Somalia and contribute to it ongoing economic recovery of Somalia by visiting dignitaries appearing at the opening of the Somali Producers’ Conference & Exhibition 2014 (SOPEC) in Dubai.

SOPEC is an industry-led event aimed at linking Somali businesses in agriculture, fisheries and livestock to international markets, under the technical support of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and with funding from the European Union.

Luca Alinovi, FAO’s head of office in Somalia commented that the exhibition has helped to bring to light a crucial debate about the role of the Somali economy in the peace process.

He said: “This element has been missing for quite some time in the economic foundation of the country and Somalia’s policy and development debate. The country’s entrepreneurial capacity remains a critical inroad in the peace process and the country’s future.”

His Excellency Abdul Rahman Saif Al Ghurair, chairman of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, presided over the event at Dubai’s World Trade Centre, which was attended by various ministers from the Somali government and members from the business community.

Somalia’s Minister for Trade and Industry, Adan Mohamed Nur, hailed the event as unique and pioneering and pledged his government’s support, noting: “The Somali government is ready to do everything to promote our producers in order to link them to markets like in the UAE and other countries and I would like to thank FAO and the EU for this effort.”

FAO Somalia designed the programme in part with the aim of rekindling Somalia’s trade links with the Middle East, and Somalia now exports 4.7 million livestock to Gulf states in a trade boom that has grown since 2009 when Saudi Arabia lifted a 9-year disease related ban.

Somali producers were once Africa’s best and most competitive economic drivers, exporting millions of livestock and hundreds of thousands of tonnes of banana, seafood and sesame, but civil strife in the late 80s and early 90s civil strife and the subsequent collapse of the central government led to cessation of all but weakened livestock exports.

However, in a key success story for Somali agriculture earlier in March, farmers supported by the FAO and EU supplied food assistance to the World Food Programme for the first time.

In the fisheries, the decline of pirate following international naval forces operations, has allowed fishermen and markets to return to using Somalia’s under-utilised fishing resources, while the FAO remains on hand to avoid unsustainable practices and overexploitation.

Michele Cervone d’Urso, EU Ambassador to Somalia, added: “Let a strong message come out of this conference that change in Somalia is coming and will transcend political and security challenges, and let us make this conference a turning point in helping Somalia re-establish itself as Africa’s foremost economic and business engine.”

The event recommended a continuation of such efforts by the private sector, Somali, UAE and other GCC governments to enhance and grow the three productive sectors, as well as removal of trade impeding barriers to facilitate free movement of goods and people.