Iraqi region has huge potential

Tracy Meharg, Invest NI's managing director of Innovation and Capability Development looks at export opportunities in the Middle East region.

Northern Ireland companies in manufacturing and tradable services will have an opportunity this week to develop business in Kurdistan during a visit by a 30-strong delegation from this rapidly developing Middle East region.

The delegation, led by Kurdistan’s Economy and Tourism ministers, is the latest and probably the most important business exchange to date between Northern Ireland and Kurdistan.

As a result of a previous visit here by the Kurdistan Regional Authority (KRA) and subsequent Invest NI trade mission to the market, several local companies, particularly in construction, materials handling and power generation, and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, now have good and developing business there. A number of our companies are also actively considering setting up offices in Erbil, Kurdistan’s burgeoning capital city.

This is immensely encouraging because, a year or so ago, Kurdistan didn’t figure on the radar of business here and in other parts of the UK. It was bracketed, wrongly, as a war zone with other parts of Iraq. We know better than most how wrong perceptions can be.

Invest NI has been working closely with KRA in both Erbil and London to foster relationships which will lead to long-term business. To this end, we’ve scheduled another trade mission to Kurdistan in October.

We have also linked up with the Middle East Association and UK Trade & Investment to enable our companies to visit the seventh Erbil International Trade Fair, Iraq’s largest general trade exhibition. This will offer extensive opportunities to companies to meet potential customers and partners.

Our Trade team has also developed considerable experience and a network of business and government contacts there. Companies which sign up for the forthcoming mission can look forward to great support from KRA ministers and staff as they develop business there. UK-Kurdish relations are strong, and British business is welcomed and encouraged for the high quality of its skills, expertise, and products.

Northern Ireland companies which are already doing business in Middle East markets such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Gulf states such as Kuwait and Qatar should certainly look closely at Kurdistan.

What does Kurdistan offer the business community here?  The answer is that it offers immense opportunities to a broad cross-section of companies in manufacturing, construction, engineering and expert services across a region which really wants to do business with us and values the products and technology that we are able to offer. Kurdistan is a region with a long shopping list of products and services that it wants to acquire. Economically, the region is moving rapidly ahead of the rest of Iraq.

Kurdistan is now a stable and peaceful region, one which also has oil, gas and other mineral resources and has attracted substantial international aid to improve its economy and living standards.

Huge construction projects are underway that are creating modern housing, schools, hospitals, hotels, restaurants and shopping malls.

While it is a fertile region, Kurdistan still has to import much of its food, which provides scope for Northern Ireland to help rebuild the agri-food industry.

The KRA, in addition, has identified an urgent requirement to develop management, technical skills and industrial know-how.

Kurdistan shares with Northern Ireland a strategic commitment to strengthen its private sector, enhance the technology base, promote innovation and thereby regenerate its economy and create thousands of new jobs. And it has also targeted tourism as a key economic driver.

Kurdistan offers huge opportunities for Northern Ireland and particularly for experienced exporters prepared to devote the essential time and financial resources. Those prepared to do so, and to work closely with Invest NI will, I am convinced, find Kurdistan a very worthwhile and rewarding investment.

Kurdistan is most definitely open for business with Northern Ireland.

This article was taken from the Irish News on 28 June 2011.