Businesses across the world are feeling the pinch from the political unrest in the Middle East and north Africa (MENA), with British and European firms suffering the most.

Research from Grant Thornton’s International Business Report, a quarterly survey of 2700 medium to large privately held businesses across the world, found that, globally, 22% of respondents said the turmoil in the region was having a negative impact on their business.


Within Europe, businesses in Denmark (30%) and Spain (29%) claim to have been most affected, followed by the UK and Ireland (24% in each market). North America was the region most affected overall, with 26% of businesses saying they had noted a negative impact, while Turkey was by far the country most affected (53%).

In the UK, nearly a quarter (24%) of companies said they have seen a negative impact on business as a direct result of the conflict, but a mere 6% say this will prevent them from doing business in the MENA region in the future. This is lower than the worldwide average of 10%.

However, confidence in the region has declined significantly for a handful of countries, mostly those that were the hardest hit by the Arab Spring, such as Turkey (44% less likely to do business in the future with the region), Vietnam (24%) and the Philippines (22%). In mainland China, where only 18% of businesses felt a negative impact from the unrest, a dip in business confidence for future trade with the region was also noted (22%). Figures from fDiMarkets have shown a huge drop in project numbers and capital expenditure in 2011 compared with the previous year.

Scott Barnes, CEO of Grant Thornton UK LLP, said: "Given historic growth rates and how well the MENA region recovered from the recession pre-Arab Spring, it's clearly an important place for businesses to be. However, businesses should not expect significant returns in the short-term.

"UK businesses looking to invest in the region for the first time should carefully consider which market they choose as a launch pad. Focusing on the stable states in the Gulf is a good place to start, but for those prepared to take calculated risks, there are many attractive pricing options in areas still affected by political unrest.   

"A large majority of the Gulf states have committed to improving social welfare and as such are planning increased investment in infrastructure. Healthcare in particular is a key focus, though the regulatory environment is still a challenge."