MIDDLE EAST MARKET HEATS UP

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The smart marketers such as Coca-Cola and the obvious marketers such as Mobil Oil have reaped dividends from their investments in the Middle East for decades. The movement toward peace is icing on their cake.

But to those who associate the Middle East with oil, camels and incomprehensible and internecine war, the peace process opens the region's doors-and opens the minds of reluctant marketers.

The handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat on Sept. 13, 1993, heralding the peace process, ignited a Middle East marketing explosion.

Marketers worldwide are scurrying to the region to sell products, establish franchises and join local operations. The expansion of trade between the area and the rest of the world has been simply amazing. Forthcoming 1994 statistics will likely show huge increases from the nearly $140 billion in imports reported in 1992.

What isn't amazing is why these marketers are rushing to establish a presence in this historically volatile area. The reason is the numbers. The region's population-at 268 million, roughly the size of the U.S.-lives in a largely underdeveloped area and consequently need even basic consumer goods.

Of course, marketers must learn new selling methods for the Middle East, because the region is heterogeneous and devoutly religious. But those factors have not kept marketers from other areas.

Beyond the onslaught of marketers, intraregional trade is also rising, though some still occurs in the background. Most aspects of the Arab boycott of Israel are gone, but traces remain: Many Arab marketers still do business with Israel only behind the scenes.

Yet the very expansion of trade within the region is significant; economic interdependence will support the rocky road to peace.

Again, smart marketers should not assume all risks are gone. But the promise of Middle East peace is a dream worth marketing toward.

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