COVID-19 / CORONAVIRUS MARKET UPDATE – INDIA, MIDDLE EAST & AFRICA

General overview

The India, Middle East and Africa region (IMEA) is a significant export market for New Zealand. It is also a region of vast diversity and varying levels of economic development.

There has been a strong response across IMEA to the COVID-19 outbreak, with most countries pausing or significantly commercial flights.

There are considerable social impacts across the region – with most events, gatherings, schools, entertainment, restaurants and sports venues closed across multiple markets. Governments are increasingly moving to stricter enforcement, including police patrols and curfews, broadly similar to New Zealand's COVID-19 Alert Levels Three and Four.


Middle Eastern markets overview

The Middle East has seen a strong stimulus response from both the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Saudi Arabia has pledged a 50 billion riyal (NZ$22 billion) package aimed at SMEs to preserve jobs. Similarly, the UAE's central bank has announced a 100 billion dirham (NZ$45 billion) package offered as capital buffers and zero-interest loans to local banks.

Given the significance of the airline, oil, financial and tourist sectors to the entire region, COVID-19 will have a substantial impact in coming weeks and more stimulus and support packages will be announced by governments in the region to offset this. Existing geopolitical tensions in the region have taken a back seat as countries react to the immediate COVID-19 threat.

Key links:

  • UAE official government news website

  • UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs website (English)

  • Saudi Arabia official government website (English)

Please note travellers returning from any country in the IMEA region (or from any other country or region, excluding selected Pacific countries) are subject to a mandatory 14-day self-isolation period when returning to New Zealand and must register with Healthline via 0800 358 5453.

Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has barred entry to all foreign nationals. All events in Saudi Arabia are cancelled until further notice, including Islamic pilgrimage, and access to Makkah and Madinah is restricted.

Saudi Arabia has suspended all international flight, and any citizen or resident who is unable to return has been granted a special paid holiday. All government workers are to stay home except for medical and military personnel.The Saudi government implemented urgent measures to mitigate the economic impact of the Covid-19 on economic activities as well as the private sector. Among the most important of these measures are:

  • A financial stimulus package of more than SAR 70 billion, which consists of exemptions and postponement of some government dues to provide liquidity to the private sector, which enable them to manage continuity of their economic activities.

  • The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) has announced a package of SAR 50 billion, to support the banking sector, financial institutions and SMEs.

  • Postponing the collection of customs duties on imports for a period of thirty days against the submission of a bank guarantee, for the coming three months, and setting the necessary criteria for extending the postponement period for the most affected activities as needed.

  • The government also confirms its determination in paying its obligations in accordance with their due dates, in addition to applying measures that maintain financial sector stability.

Market Trends

The HORECA sector in the kingdom has been hit hard by the global outbreak of COVID-19.

E-commerce is surging in Saudi Arabi. Because of shutting-down all malls and commercial centres, as well as imposing a curfew (from 3pm to 6am), consumers are shifting to online channels as an alternative to fulfil their daily shopping needs.

Healthy F&B products are witnessing increasing demand and sales are expected to get higher. Consumer preference is shifting towards products that support their overall maintenance of health and wellness, including dairy products, honey (especially mānuka honey), and ginger drinks.

The IT sector is expected to gain more attention. With millions working from home and digital connectivity dominating everyday habits, consumers have greater motivation and fewer perceived barriers to seek technology-enabled solutions.

Companies in the F&B sector have chosen to shift their focus from the HORECA sector (which has been harshly affected by the Covid-19 outbreak) to retailers and online channels.

Distributors such as Lulu, Carrefour, and Danube, are witnessing higher online sales, especially for F&B products.

Opportunities in sales to the armed forces and core government support for COVID-19 have intensified.

Banks and financial institution response

So far, companies are at low risk of facing delayed payments as well as banking or financial challenges in Saudi Arabia. This is because the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) has issued a series of measures and guidelines for banks and financial institutions to alleviate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. These include:

Initiatives aimed to ease financial transactions and improve payment solutions through electronic services.

Official instruction to all banks to make all money transfers made in Saudi riyals between banks operating in the Kingdom via SARIE (the Saudi Arabian Riyal Interbank Express system) free of charge.

Suspension of freezes on client bank accounts for 30 days in specific situations (including the expiration of identification documents, failure to meet the requirements of knowing your customer, and changing the account status to inactive due to a lack of banking transactions)

Supply chain & logistics

Companies might face some challenges concerning logistics that includes shipments' clearance and transportation. Thus, it is highly recommended that New Zealand companies get in touch with NZTE's Riyadh office to receive a daily update from the market.

Shipments might take longer to be cleared, due to necessary precautions to sterilise ports and customs facilities and provide staff with all preventive protection means.

On 19 March 2020, the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) announced the continuity of its operations to receive goods through air cargo terminals around the clock. However some disruptions might occur, as the UAE government has ordered Emirates Airlines to suspend all passenger flights in and out of the country as of 25 March (and most New Zealand products come into Saudi Arabia through the UAE). Alternatively, Qatar Airways and Singapore are still operating.

United Arab Emirates (Dubai, Abu Dhabi)

The UAE has suspended visas on arrival for all countries, including New Zealand. All UAE residents are also barred from entering the country. All commercial flights into and out of the UAE are paused.

In Dubai, all private events have been cancelled, and gyms and cinema complexes have been closed.

The United Arab Emirates is scheduled to host Expo 2020 Dubai from October 2020 to April 2021. It is unclear what the impact of COVID-19 will be on Expo 2020. NZTE is in close contact with the Expo 2020 organisers.

With Saudi having forced a drop in oil prices, Gulf countries are increasingly pressed for revenue. This will probably mean countries have to use their vast oil revenue reserves to bolster national economies.

The UAE Government has announced an AED126 billion (NZ$59 billion) package to support the national economy, ensure businesses continuity, and mitigate the coronavirus impact.

At this stage financial risks appear to be well mitigated through the Economic Stimulus package mentioned above. This package will be delivered through the major banks and government agencies starting 1 April through to 30 June 2020, after which it will likely be further reviewed and adjusted. This package will ensure there is plenty of liquidity in the financial system and we are not aware, at this stage, of any delayed payment issues over the existing long payment cycles.

No food or medicinal shortages are apparent at this stage but some construction material shortages are being reported as a result of the earlier COVID-19 impacts on Chinese manufacturing. Risks will shift as the UAE moves through the different phases of the epidemic.

With the region still at a very early stage in reacting to the epidemic, once individuals and organisations have adapted initially to the new constraints brought about by Government containment programmes, the related challenges and issues may change rapidly.

Supply chain & freight

Major ports such as Jebel Ali all seem to be operating normally. Large New Zealand companies in the region are not reporting any issues with sea freight.

Air freight availability and cost are growing issues. Emirates and Etihad are understood to be converting passenger aircraft to freighters to increase their capacities.

There are some developing challenges with consularisation of documents from New Zealand-based country embassies due staffing challenges, and other delays with border documentation even for digital processes. MPI is working to understand these and develop solutions with the help of MFAT and NZTE.

Supply chain synergies are complex as different geographies go through the epidemic. NZTE expects that given the hub capability of the UAE and GCC generally, any impacts are likely to be well managed, but costs may escalate.

Sector impacts

  • F&B activity will be hugely affected, particularly in food service.

  • Construction will not be initially affected, and more public spending is likely to maintain activity in the medium term, subject to sickness rates among construction workers.

  • Retail will be hit hard due by the closures of malls, with a definite shift to e-commerce which is under pressure.

  • Services should adapt business models to the 'working from home' dynamic.

  • A renewed focus on tech, particularly agritech, is expected during the recovery from the epidemic.

  • There is a looming anxiety about likely job losses which are expected to further dampen consumer spending.

Africa

After a relatively low number of initial cases relative to rest of the world, countries across Africa this week have significantly increased their response to COVID-19. The number of infection confirmations are quickly increasing, as testing increases.

Two key themes likely to impact across the continent will be commodity pricing, specifically oil. And the second the lag impact of China's COVID-19 response given China's significance as an export partner across African markets.

There are a number of other risks for the continent overall, particularly given the reliance on imported foodstuffs and medical/pharmaceutical products. Looking further out, the risk of reduced remittances from expatriate African nationals impacted by work reductions or job losses could have consequences for disposable incomes across Africa.

What can be challenging cross-border difficulties in the best of times may be exacerbated, and companies should work closely with their shipping agents to understand expectations and risk for product entering the market, particularly consignments requiring land border crossings to land-locked countries.

To date there have been no reported impacts at key ports, although with increasing quarantine measures applying to vessels and crew, this needs to be carefully watched.

For manufacturing exporters, a likely reduction in key specialised expatriate staff who have been repatriated to their home countries could have implications for technical, after-sales support or other areas which will be important for companies to review and understand the implication of. Keeping close engagement with channel partners and distributors is critical at this time.

South Africa

South Africa has taken significant steps to control COVID-19 which will have ramifications for the economy. Currently South Africa is in a three-week national lockdown similar to New Zealand's Alert Level Four.

The economy is in for a challenging period. Already low GDP growth rates are likely to enter negative territory quickly which will result in a contraction for the first time in 11 years. Moody's is expected to come out with a negative assessment of South Africa, possibly cutting the country to junk status.

South Africa's largest trading partner in both export and import terms is China, and the lag-impact of China's lockdown is likely to continue to be felt in South Africa in coming weeks.

The South African Rand has also dropped heavily against the US dollar (the NZD is back close to 10:1 against the Rand), which will have a negative impact for New Zealand exporters.

Positively, many commentators are pleased with the speed and decisiveness of the South African response, which will hopefully save the country from the worst of the possible fallout.

Egypt

Egypt is so far faring well at the early stage of the COVID-19 crisis, on the back of a strong stimulus package from the Egyptian government (US$1.3 billion) and swift implementation of curfews and halting flights to slow the spread of the outbreak.

Nigeria

Nigeria is likely to be hit hard by the global oil price decline and is dealing with a significant excess of supply. This will hit government finances substantially.

Meanwhile SMEs are facing the prospect of managing this with the very high lending rates seen in Nigeria (between 20 and 26 percent), with many commentators calling for government intervention to support businesses through the crisis.

A key consideration for New Zealand exporters in coming weeks will be the impact on domestic supply chains for commodity and food product transport from the main economic hubs to rural and inland areas, and the challenges any possible lockdown could have.

India

All existing visas for India (except for diplomatic, employment and project visas) are suspended until 15 April 2020. Visa free travel for Overseas Citizens of India is also in abeyance until 15 April. The visas of foreign nationals already in India remain valid. See this official circular of 11 March for further information.

Market overview

Indian GDP growth rates have been revised downwards a number of times in recent months. The Government's fiscal stimulus measures, and other reforms such as merging banks, changes in FDI policy, allowing 100% investment into some key sectors, and cutting corporate taxes, are all aimed at stopping the downward trend. However, the lockdown could have a significant effect on the economy. Demand may be flattened further.

The Government has announced a Rs 15,000 crore (INR 150 billion) healthcare provision for strengthening health infrastructure for treatment of coronavirus-infected patients. Export of critical care equipment has been banned. While local manufacturing and production has been ramped up, imports may be undertaken where required. This could present an opportunity for some New Zealand exporters.

The Government has also called on Indian industry to come forward and manufacture essential products such as ventilators and testing kits, and to provide services needed to tackle the crisis. Such expenses and investment might be considered as CSR (corporate social responsibility) by the Government.

The banking systems is functional but operating on reduced staff. Delayed financial approvals and payments are expected. The sale and distribution of essentials and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) are currently being retailed with stock that is already existing in the supply chain. Once existing product is exhausted, there will be real pressure on society to manage with less.

Recent examples of the issues and challenges faced by leading shipping companies include:

  • Limitation of road transport for interstate movement (rail is currently unaffected).

  • Many truck drivers have returned to their villages, creating an acute shortage.

  • The number of customs brokers has dropped dramatically.

  • In ports and CFSs, many staff can't get to work, and are under pressure from their villages not to go to work.

  • Surveyors in empty depots have been unable to get to work.

Anecdotal reports suggest a major impact on transport and distribution across India. Note all cargo vessels coming into Indian ports are to be screened, and this can delay shipping time. Suspected vessels will be quarantined for 14 days. While international and domestic passenger flights have been closed, cargo flights are allowed, subject to screening and formal clearance.

India's evolving e-commerce sites may not be of much help during the lockdown. See this link.

NZTE suggests any exports to or imports from India in the near future should be undertaken only after careful consideration of all risks, and with enhanced insurance coverage wherever possible to compensate for delays.

Key links

Other regional markets

Sri Lanka has suspended Electronic Travel Authorisations (ETAs, or E-Visas) for all foreigners who hold ordinary passports.

The Government of Nepal has also suspended visa-on-arrival facilities for all foreigners until 30 April.

Please note all travellers returning to New Zealand are subject to a mandatory 14-day self-isolation period and must register with Healthline via 0800 358 5453.


Additional resources

Below you can find information and contact details for other New Zealand government and international agencies regarding their response to COVID-19.

New Zealand Government agencies

Business.govt.nz
Covid19.govt.nz
New Zealand Customs
Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI)
MFAT Export helpline
MFAT Safetravel
Immigration
Ministry of Health

Global agencies

World health organisation (WHO)
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Contact NZTE

We're available to talk to you about any issues your export business is facing due to COVID-19.

For existing NZTE customers, please contact your New Zealand-based Customer Manager.

If you're unsure who to contact or haven't worked with us before, you can call NZTE on 0800 555 888 or email below and one of our Customer Advisors will help you.