The Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AACCI) recently (12-17 April) led a select group of Australian companies to the Kurdish region of Iraq in pursuit of business opportunities.
They found an economy, now emerging after decades of isolation and neglect, buoyed by growing foreign investment, supported by oil and gas revenues, and underpinned by levels of physical security and social cohesion that the rest of Iraq can only dream of.
Kurdish independence within the new democratic structure of Iraq has been r entrenched by political understandings reached by the government in Baghdad and the leaders of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).
Led by AACCI’s National Chairman, Ray Najar, the delegation, comprising business interests in the agriculture, vocational training and tourism sectors, met a range of senior Kurdish political and business leaders in the Kurdish towns of Erbil, Duhok and Sulaimaniyeh .
The common message from the Kurdish side was that the time was now ripe for foreign companies to invest in Kurdistan.
The region was stable, foreigners and locals alike were safe to walk the streets of all the major centres free from the fear of terrorism, and the KRG had passed legislation which enabled foreign companies to own land, import materials related to their business duty free, enjoy a ten year taxation holiday, and repatriate funds without hindrance.
Ray Najar, who is from Adelaide, is impressed by the levels of foreign investment that are already visible in the major Kurdish centres.
“Foreign companies are beginning to establish themselves in the major Kurdish centres, and it is appropriate that Australian companies also seek out opportunities”, he says.
“Not only do companies enjoy a relatively secure environment, both in the physical and regulatory senses, but those which base themselves in the Kurdish north, would be well placed to move into Baghdad when the threat of violence there subsides”, he adds.
The AACCI delegation identified the agriculture and tourism sectors as areas of major promise for Australian companies. Education and vocational training were also important priorities for the Kurdish authorities.
Through official aid programs Australia is assisting Iraq develop its human resources potential.
According to Ray Najar, capacity building across many sectors is in high demand in Kurdistan.
Despite its rich soils, agricultural production in the region has diminished through years of neglect, mismanagement and under-investment.
The KRG now plans to restore production of wheat, fruit and vegetables, poultry and meat production to levels that would provide self-sufficiency to the region, and lay the foundations for a modern fresh food exporting capacity.
It is looking to Australian companies for know-how, equipment, assistance and investment funding.
The tourism sector likewise suffers from under-investment. Yet the region abounds with superb mountain scenery, snow covered in winter, carpeted with lush green grasses in summer, and decorated with colourful wildflowers in spring.
Multiple historic and archaeological sites – such as the Erbil Citadel, built on six millennia of civilization – await the traveler, reminding the world that the region was once on the cross roads between the great Babylonian, Assyrian, Turkish and Mediterranean powers that collectively were the source of the first cultural footprints of mankind.
New modern hotels and shopping malls are under construction across the cityscapes of the main centres. And new power stations, fired by gas from Chamchamal, not far from Sulaimani, are helping to attract industrial investment.
Ray Najar is convinced that the region is on the brink of sustained and spectacular expansion. “It won’t be another Dubai”, he says, “but its access to funding, power and water, makes the region a sound prospect for engagement, including by Australian companies.”
( AustArab.com.au )