By Gavin Jones, Director of Iraq Business News, and Partner at consultancy firm Upper Quartile. This article was originally published on the Emerging Economics blog. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
We are seeing an unprecedented level of interest in Iraq from UK and International companies – we regularly run trips into Baghdad and Basra, have been running recruiting programmes for large international companies and have had a lot of interest from senior Iraqi Government officials and technical staff in visiting the UK to identify partners.
On several occasions we have been asked where UK Trade and Investment is and what they have in place in Iraq to support British companies. The straight answer is that what UKT&I have is very limited, restricted to Baghdad and (appears to me) to be limited to a meeting once a week with the British companies in Iraq that can make it into the British Embassy. This is appalling following the cost in terms of lives and money of getting Iraq into the position of being willing and able to accept international investment. It is all the more galling when a significant number of senior influential Iraqi’s have a close relationship with the UK. As one said “..we would like to work with UK companies but we don’t have to..”
To put the situation into perspective the UK closed their Consulate in Basra in May – then Kuwait opened one in June and the US opened theirs in July; the Russians, Germans, Danes and Turkey have functioning Consulates in Basra. The Basra Oil and Gas show in November has the Swedish Trade Council, South California and Oil and Gas – French Industry ….. all there. No British Government presence. See attached Basra Oil and Gas Exhibition floor plan
There are two reasons behind this myopia that that I can see:
The first is that old one of budget restrictions and argument that UKT&I can maintain a network of representatives in – say – India from which there is a bigger and better established trade relationship, whereas the costs of operating in Iraq are so high that they can only afford a network of two or three staff. This does not really wash – countries with an established (and often sizeable) trade with the UK do not really need support in the same way as a new, very large, wholly untapped and very misunderstood market like Iraq does. If there was ever a place that companies looking to establish a presence in were crying out for UK Government help in – it is Iraq.