Whatever one’s views about the Iraq war and its legitimacy (the Chilcot Inquiry is grandstand viewing in that respect); all of us have a common belief that we have a duty to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq and in developing its economic future.
It is clear, however, that British business is punching well below its weight in this respect.
The Middle East Association, one of the most active trade associations in the region, which is keen to promote British business in Iraq, reports that only one out of 50 companies at the recent Erbil international trade fair in the Iraqi Kurdistan region was British. This compares with the presence of numerous Austrian, French and Italian and German companies.
This is symptomatic of the British neglect of the need to do business with Iraq.
Another reason why business is not thriving between Britain and Iraq, is the great difficulty experienced by Iraqi business people in securing a visa to visit Britain.
Iraqi nationals have to go to Amman, Jordan, Beirut or Abu Dhabi to apply for a visa in person, as there is no issuing facility within Iraq. This means travelling to another country and waiting (under normal circumstances) for at least a week, when it is decided whether or not the visa will be granted.
Business people frequently experience such long delays that they miss conferences or exhibitions and decide to cancel their visit. If they are unsuccessful they simply have to travel back to Iraq, having waited fruitlessly in Amman for a week or two. There are myriad examples of Iraqi business people experiencing total frustration with our visa system.
Visits by Iraqi business people to the UK are vital if we are to promote British business in Iraq. How can they, for example, inspect manufacturing facilities, meet senior management and receive training and after-sales assistance without being able to visit suppliers in Britain?
The government needs to firmly grasp this issue. It has repeatedly promised action over the past two years but nothing has been done to improve the situation. The contrast with countries such as France and Germany could not be greater. They have issuing facilities in both Baghdad and Erbil.
My question on January 19 is designed to highlight this important issue and ensure that full visa-issuing facilities are opened in Erbil and Baghdad.