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Q&A: Seth J. Vogelman talks trade ties with Middle East

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Seth J. Vogelman

By Mike Mika
Special to Delaware Business Times

Seth J. Vogelman is the regional director of trade for the State of Delaware’s Middle East Regional Office in Jerusalem. He has directed regional trade activities and gathered market information for Delaware since 1998.

“I do not spend enough time travelling in the region, but the more I am out of the office the better we can serve the state,” Vogelman said.

He works to promote American exports in Turkey, Jordan, Palestine, North Africa, the Arabian Gulf, Pakistan and Egypt. Earlier this summer, Vogelman shared his expertise with Delaware Business Times.

What are the current trade opportunities for Delaware in the Middle East?

The Middle East remains a good market for U.S. products, especially in the analytical lab equipment and medical device sectors. U.S. products are viewed as quality items, reliable and beneficial to the local economies. The region is not interested in new-to-market companies who have little experience, as market conditions are dynamic and the drive to close a deal is strong.

What should businesses know if they are considering trade partners with the Middle East?

Is my product certified (FDA, Mil-Spec, etc.)? Do I have the time to seriously devote effort to export promotion? A number of companies do not understand that it takes some time to develop the right representative in the region. A leading Delaware company just hired someone devoted to export development, as they realized they were not investing the time or effort needed to fully exploit and develop the new opportunities.

Has there been any impact from the Trump Administration’s changing Middle East posture?

Overall, the reaction to the election of President Trump was very positive throughout the region. It was reflected in growing interest in U.S. product offerings in a number of fields.

How important is it for businesses to visit the countries and companies they would like to do business with in person?

An in-country visit is very helpful, as it demonstrates to the local businesses your commitment to making export development a reality. If you are willing to make the financial investment, it reflects a serious commitment to trying to make market penetration a reality. Our office is anxious, ready and capable of helping you prepare for a visit to any country in the region, setting pre-arranged meetings and helping with
market briefings.

Has changing leadership in Saudi Arabia impacted your efforts?

Our office has been active in Saudi Arabia since 1998. Indeed, our first Arab world success was a $1 million deal for a Pennsylvania company. Our largest deal ever was a $5.75 million deal for an Illinois company. Prince [Mohammed Bin] Salman’s efforts are encouraging as they will help maintain this market as one full of good prospect.

Which Delaware businesses have you worked with and do you have any success stories you’d like to share?

I would love to, but this is proprietary, and I cannot share their names without company approval. But I can say our office brought a Delaware delegation to the Arab Lab event in 2014 and 2015. These were successful beyond what we could have imagined! One company reported $70,000 in sales from the event alone, to say nothing of post-event sales. Another enjoyed some $100,000 in sales immediately after the event and doubled that amount shortly thereafter.

How did you get into this line of work and why do you enjoy it?

It was by chance that I began in this field, but then I developed the entire regional outreach program that we still use today. Having a history and political science background, I enjoy being in such a dynamic part of the world. We gain and lose countries almost like a Risk game. Libya, Iraq and South Sudan come immediately to mind. Sudan is now open for business. While we have even had some Iran successes, we often help companies navigate that difficult market. Recently I updated my kosher certification guide for food companies. So our activities are far and wide.

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