The following is the text of a speech to be delivered this morning by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is addressing the Iraq Britain Business Council’s 4th London Conference on the theme: “Iraq: The Road To Success?”
This conference I know is one of several taking place that highlight the economic opportunity Iraq presents for the future, for Britain but also for investors from all over the world. Today, in particular, is a follow on from the IBBC Baghdad conference at the end of September.
The challenges that Iraq still faces are obvious: continuing security problems of terrorism, especially around Baghdad; services and infrastructure still far below what they can and should be; and bureaucracy and corruption in Iraq as elsewhere, a major source of discontent, And of course the political tensions remain high and often lead to paralysis when the country urgently needs movement. There is also the turmoil in the region not least in Syria. So the difficulties are manifest.
But this series of conferences is happening for a reason. There has also been progress. It is important not to exaggerate it; equally important not to ignore it. The economy of 2012 in Iraq is several times the size of ten years ago. Growth this year will be 9% and Iraq is set to be one of the fastest growing economies in the world over the next decade. A Government worker is paid now, on average around 4 times what he was ten years ago in real terms. Oil revenue now stands at $100 billion per annum and is set to treble by 2020. Last month Iraq surpassed Iran as exporter of oil. Iraq’s Central Bank now has the biggest reserves in its history. Baghdad stock exchange – with over 80 companies listed – will be joined by Basrah in due course. Basrah itself as its Governor recently remarked, is set for major change over the next few years. Three new satellite towns of 100,000 homes each; 60 projects for electricity under way to treble power production; and a doubling of the schools and universities. Contracts are also being drawn up for tenders for new roads, bridges and railways. The port and airport are on their feet and growing in business and trade. This is partly funded through the oil revenue now retained by Basra for its own use.