Photo by Harrison Photography
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster is pictured with Fares Hassouna, Invest NI’s in-market advisor for Dubai and the Middle East.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster is leading an Invest Northern Ireland trade mission of 20 local companies and organisations to Kurdistan this week which should see further business secured there.
Since Invest NI’s first mission to this important region of Iraq, in January 2011, companies in Northern Ireland have secured business worth more than £2 million and many are now firmly positioned for further growth in what is becoming a very dynamic market for us in the Middle East. More than 60 companies, large and small, have been introduced to Kurdistan by Invest NI this year.
Ministerial support for our trade mission programme has proved to be immensely beneficial for many local companies over the years because it helps to highlight Northern Ireland businesses. Companies appreciate Ministerial involvement, to raise the profile of the mission participants, as this allows us to gain access to key influencers, such as engaging officials responsible for placing public contracts.
In Kurdistan, the Minister has a hectic schedule of meetings with government ministers, officials and business leaders - meetings which will help to enhance further our developing relationships there. Exchanges at Ministerial level are important because they foster mutual understanding and facilitate developments across a range of business activities including technology transfer, alliances and joint approaches in areas of common interest.
The current visit also builds on the success of a delegation from Kurdistan to Northern Ireland in July 2011, a delegation led by two key ministers of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Trade and Industry Minister Sinan Celebi and Tourism Minister Samir Abdullah.
Over 40 local companies took part in business discussions then with the high profile KRG team and several subsequently followed these up by taking advantage of our support to now visit potential customers in Erbil, the Kurdistan capital, and other developing business centres.
Among local companies and organisations already doing significant business in Kurdistan are Anaconda Equipment International in Cookstown, a manufacturer of materials handling machinery, and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Belfast, which is helping to bring food safety systems there up to European standards.
Several Northern Ireland companies, including smaller enterprises in manufacturing and professional services such as building design and security, have established bases there and are bidding for contracts from the country’s huge investment in stimulus programmes to upgrade its transport network, health service, education, water and sewerage and housing.
The focus on Kurdistan is also an integral part of a new strategic approach being implemented by Invest NI throughout the Middle East, which remains among the most vibrant global markets because of oil and gas reserves and the commitment of most governments there to invest huge sums on infrastructural improvement initiatives.
We have already strengthened the team at our longstanding base in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and opened a new office in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s main Red Sea port and second city. Our Dubai office will work closely with our office in Mumbai to maximise opportunities as they arise. The team of experienced in-market advisors across the Region will advise and support Northern Ireland companies keen to grow through exporting goods and services to the Middle East and India.
What makes Kurdistan an extremely attractive market for Northern Ireland companies, across a broad range of industries, is the scale of the business opportunity and the enthusiasm there for building relationships with the UK and rest of Europe.
The region, about the size of the Netherlands, benefits from extensive natural resources, including fertile land, water, oil, gas and a host of other minerals. KRG is keen to harness these and to develop region’s physical, natural, and, above all, human resources, in order to develop the economy to the long-term benefit of its people.
This all adds up to a tremendous business opportunity for our companies, and I hope to see many more local companies engage with us in developing business with Kurdistan. We have the products and expertise to help in the reconstruction of this fast developing region.
This article appeared in the Irish News on 25 October 2011.