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Riyadh woos Iraqis with Security Talks, Economic Projects

By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Riyadh woos Iraqis with security talks, economic projects

Falih al-Fayadh, head of the Popular Mobilization Units and Iraq’s national security adviser, visited Saudi Arabia Jan. 31 in a sign of the new and improved ties between the two countries.

As Fayadh is close to Iran and widely viewed as a pro-Iran candidate for interior minister in the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, his visit aimed to reassure Riyadh that the PMU will target neither it nor its interests in Iraq.

A few days before Fayadh’s visit to Saudi Arabia, Riyadh renewed its support for Baghdad, especially in terms of security, in a Jan. 24 phone call between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abdul Mahdi.

In light of the tension prevailing over the region, the phone call emphasized Riyadh’s desire to make up for the past and create a positive relationship with Iraq.

Click here to read the full story.

Posted in Iraq Industry & Trade News, Politics, Security 0 Comments

MBC 2

Launch of MBC Iraq “sparks Controversy among Iraqis”

By Omar al-Jaffal for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Saudi media group MBC announced in early February that it will launch a new TV channel — MBC Iraq — aimed at Iraqi viewers. Soon after the announcement, a number of angry responses emerged in the Iraqi media and among political figures, which led MBC to defend its plan.

The MBC group generally produces entertainment shows and social content, which will also be aired on MBC Iraq that is scheduled to launch on the evening of Feb. 17.

MBC’s television operations are funded by Saudi businessmen, many of whom are close to the Saudi royal family.

Click here to read the full story.

Posted in Iraqi Communications News 0 Comments

Saudi Iraq Kuwait border map

Saudi delegation visits Baghdad to discuss new Football Stadium

By John Lee.

A delegation from the Saudi Arabian government reportedly arrived in Baghdad on Saturday to discuss the construction of a 100,000-seater football stadium.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman promised last March to build a football stadium in Iraq.

According to some reports, it was later announced that Saudi Arabia would increase the number of seats to 135,000.

(Source: Xinhua, Al-Monitor)

Posted in Construction & Engineering In Iraq, Leisure and Tourism in Iraq 0 Comments

UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO)

Petrofac Exec admits Bribes Paid to Win Iraq Contracts

In connection with the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO)’s ongoing investigation into Petrofac Limited and its subsidiaries (“Petrofac”), on 6 February 2019 David Lufkin, 51, a British national, and previously Global Head of Sales for Petrofac International Limited, pleaded guilty at Westminster Magistrates’ Court to eleven counts of bribery, contrary to sections 1(1) and 1(2) of the Bribery Act 2010.

These offences relate to the making of corrupt offers to influence the award of contracts to Petrofac worth in excess of USD $730 million in Iraq and in excess of USD $3.5 billion in Saudi Arabia.

The charges included the following:

Payments of approximately USD $2.2 million were ultimately made by Petrofac to two agents in respect of a USD $329.7 million Engineering, Procurement and Construction (“EPC”) contract on the Badra oilfield in Iraq (the “Badra Phase One EPC contract”) awarded to Petrofac in February 2012.

Corrupt offers of payments were also made to an agent to influence the award of contract variations to the Badra Phase One EPC contract, and for the extension of the Badra Operations and Maintenance (“O&M”) contract.  Petrofac was unsuccessful in obtaining these contracts and no payments were made to the agent.

  • Fao [Faw] Terminal, Iraq

Payments of approximately USD $4 million were ultimately made by Petrofac to an agent in respect of an O&M contract on the Fao Terminal project in Iraq (the “Fao Terminal O&M contract”).  The Fao Terminal O&M contract, awarded to Petrofac in August 2012, together with yearly extensions awarded in 2013, 2014 and 2015, was worth approximately USD $400 million to Petrofac.

  • Saudi Arabia

Payments of approximately USD $45 million were made by Petrofac to its agent in respect of the following contracts awarded to Petrofac in Saudi Arabia, between July 2012 and November 2015:

  • Payments of approximately USD $5.8 million were ultimately made by Petrofac to its agent in respect of EPC contracts for the Petro Rabigh Phase II Petrochemical Expansion Project awarded in July 2012 and worth approximately USD $463 million;
  • Payments of approximately USD $21.4 million were ultimately made by Petrofac to its agent in respect of EPC contracts for Jazan Refinery and Terminal Project awarded in December 2012 and worth approximately USD $1.7 billion; and
  • Payments of approximately USD $19.5 million were ultimately made by Petrofac to its agent in respect of the EPC contract for a sulphur recovery plant as part of the Fadhili Gas Plant Project awarded in November 2015 and worth approximately USD $1.56 billion.

Corrupt offers of payments were also made to its agent for the award of other contracts at the time. Petrofac was unsuccessful in obtaining these contracts and no payments were made to its agent.

David Lufkin will be sentenced at a later date.

The SFO’s investigation into Petrofac’s use of agents in multiple jurisdictions, including Iraq and Saudi Arabia, is ongoing.

Individuals with information potentially relevant to this investigation are encouraged to contact the SFO through our secure and confidential reporting channelWhen providing information please quote ‘Petrofac Investigation’.  Please note that it would be of particular assistance if you could provide your contact details for any further queries or questions that we may have.

(Source: UK SFO)

Posted in Construction & Engineering In Iraq 0 Comments

Hiroyuki Sato, Docomo Digital

Docomo Digital, Zain launch Mobile Gaming in Iraq

By John Lee.

Docomo Digital, part of Japan’s NTT Docomo, has said it is launching a mobile gaming platform with Zain Iraq, giving more than 16 million subscribers the ability to access hundreds of titles using direct carrier billing on monthly phone bills.

Zain Games’ GamEmpire is a bundle of native and HTML5 games that can be streamed directly to mobile phones or tablets.

Docomo Digital and Zain, a leading mobile operator in the Middle East and Africa, signed the initial agreement in early 2018 at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The partnership allows Zain’s 46.9 million customers to access mobile content from Docomo and have it billed monthly through the carrier.

Zain, which operates in eight countries in the region, has already launched the service in Saudi Arabia,  Kuwait and Jordan. Additional rollouts are scheduled for Bahrain and Lebanon over the next few months.

Hiroyuki Sato (pictured), Docomo Digital CEO, said:

Launching our games platform in Iraq marks yet another important milestone in our important partnership with the Zain Group, and our first such partnership in Iraq.

“We are committed to expanding our footprint across the Middle East and we hope to bring our latest suite of content and billing services to Zain’s subscribers across the region.”

(Source: Docomo Digital)

Posted in Iraqi Communications News, Leisure and Tourism in Iraq 0 Comments

Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI) logo

TBI first Iraqi Bank to get B- from Fitch

Fitch Ratings has assigned Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI) a Long-Term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) of ‘B-‘ with Stable Outlook.

According to Saudi Gazette, this makes TBI the first bank in Iraq to get B- from Fitch.

IDRS AND VIABILITY RATING

TBI’s IDRs are driven by the bank’s Viability Rating (VR) and underpinned by potential sovereign support.

TBI’s VR of ‘b-‘ is constrained by the operating environment in Iraq, which can be volatile and challenging, and where TBI generates 85% of its business volume (on- and off-balance sheet exposure). Therefore, the operating environment and broader country risks influence TBI’s standalone risk profile.

TBI’s company profile is a relative strength for the rating. It captures the bank’s important trade finance role, as Iraq’s primary bank for financing imports, leading market share in Iraq (30% of sector assets), and largely government-led business in terms of lending, off-balance sheet transactions and customer deposit funding.

TBI was set up in 2003 by the Coalition Provisional Authority (the transitional government of Iraq at the time) with the support of a consortium of 13 major international banks from 13 countries, which provided technical and operational expertise. TBI is now fully operational and is systemically important to Iraq.

TBI’s key strategic objectives are to build a universal banking franchise in Iraq (with growth in domestic retail banking and project finance) and expand regionally through acquisitions. The latter is partly driven by the government’s efforts to reintegrate Iraq in the international financial markets. This also opens the bank to significant execution risks if the expansion is not managed adequately. The bank currently has a representative office in Abu Dhabi and has recently been granted licence to open a branch Saudi Arabia.

Asset quality is a rating weakness. TBI has a very high impaired loan ratio (41% at end-2017). Most impaired exposures were originated during 2014-2015 in a period of political turmoil and heightened security risks with the rise of ISIS in Iraq. Recent impaired loan generation is attributable to the drop in oil prices given the high oil dependence nature of the Iraqi economy (oil accounts for more than 50% of GDP). TBI’s impaired loans include both cash loans and trade finance facilities that got impaired (moved onto balance sheet). Under new management, TBI has made strong strides in recoveries, which total USD640 million to date in 2018 (2017: USD210 million).

TBI has a satisfactory funding and liquidity position, helped by substantial government deposits. Profitability is also satisfactory, with core net interest income growing in 2017 despite slow business volume growth due to conflict and low oil prices.

Capitalisation is a relative strength, with TBI reporting very strong regulatory Basel I total capital adequacy ratio and Fitch Core Capital ratio of 67% at end-2017. At the same time, these strong metrics should be viewed in the context of 0% risk weightings applied to all of TBI’s sovereign and government exposure. TBI is expected to report regulatory capital ratios under Basel III in 2019.

For now, TBI’s leverage, as defined by the bank’s tangible common equity/tangible assets ratio, which was a satisfactory 16.7% at end-2017, is a more reasonable measure of capitalisation in our view.

TBI has around USD3.7 billion equivalent of Iraqi dinar deposits trapped in the Kurdish region due to a political dispute with the central government, which would eliminate TBI’s equity if deducted. TBI expects to recover this amount due to ongoing discussions between both parties. These deposits are excluded from TBI’s reported liquidity ratios (Basel III liquidity coverage ratio of 186% and net stable funding ratio of 162% at end-9M18), which are very healthy.

SUPPORT RATING AND SUPPORT RATING FLOOR

TBI’s Support Rating of ‘5’ and Support Rating Floor of ‘B-‘ reflect Fitch view that sovereign support, while possible, cannot be relied upon.

Fitch believes that the authorities would have a strong propensity to support TBI in case of need. This considers the role played by TBI on behalf of the government, the bank’s systemic importance, as well as its 100% state-ownership. Nevertheless, Fitch’s view is that sovereign support cannot be relied upon given Iraq’s own creditworthiness (as indicated by the sovereign’s ‘B-‘ IDR) and potential delays in providing timely and sufficient support due to country risks including an uncertain political environment in Iraq.

RATING SENSITIVITIES

IDRS AND VR
TBI’s IDRs and VR are sensitive to a change in the Iraqi sovereign rating. They are also sensitive to further asset quality deterioration or an increase in country risk, leading to more challenging operating conditions. Finally, the VR is also sensitive to TBI making a major acquisition abroad that could materially change its overall risk profile.

SUPPORT RATING AND SUPPORT RATING FLOOR
TBI’s SR and SRF are also sensitive to a change in the Iraqi sovereign rating. They could be downgraded/revised if Fitch views that the state’s willingness to support the bank is diminishing, for example in the event of a change in TBI’s role or a material reduction in government ownership.

The rating actions are as follows:

Trade Bank of Iraq
Long-Term IDR assigned at ‘B-‘: Outlook Stable
Short-Term IDR assigned at ‘B’
Viability Rating assigned at ‘b-‘
Support Rating assigned at ‘5’
Support Rating Floor assigned at ‘B-‘

(Sources: Fitch, Saudi Gazette)

Posted in Investment, Iraq Banking & Finance News 1 Comment

ScreenHunter 3420

How Saudi and Qatar are Competing over Iraq

By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

As the Gulf crisis continues with the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with no sign of a resolution, each country deems it necessary to seek a rapprochement with Iraq and win the country over to its own economic and political camps.

Each is trying to have Baghdad align with its axis, while Baghdad affirms its need for help from both countries to get rid of the destruction left by the Islamic State (IS) in the Sunni areas.

A Qatari delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani visited the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Nov. 7, where he met with the Iraqi president, prime minister and parliament speaker to “discuss the ties between the two countries.”

Click here to read the full story.

Posted in Construction & Engineering In Iraq Comments Off on How Saudi and Qatar are Competing over Iraq

Barham Salih, Italy, 221118

Iraq to remove Impediments to Infrastructure Investment

By John Lee.

Iraqi President Barham Salih has told an international conference in Rome that Iraq will remove any impediments to Iraqi and foreign private sector companies, as well as international financial institutions, donor countries and sovereign wealth funds, to invest in major infrastructure projects in the country.

He added that these projects may include deep port facilities in Basra, a highway network, new railways, airports, industrial cities and dams, and irrigation projects in the Nineveh Plain, Garamian, Erbil, as well as land reclamation in the south.

 

The following is the full text of the speech delivered by His Excellency President Barham Salih at the Conference of the Mediterranean Dialogues on Thursday afternoon, November 22, 2018:

Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests,

First of all, I’d like to thank the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and ISPI for organizing this conference and the opportunity to address this distinguished audience. I also want to thank His Excellency President Sergio Mattarella and His Excellency Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte for their kind invitation to Italy.

Many may say there is nothing unique about the present day Middle East — we are living through yet another phase of conflict— as we have been plagued by conflict and powers struggles for much of our contemporary history.

However, the military defeat of DAESH and the formation of a new government in Baghdad may well represent a turning point not only for Iraq, but also potentially for the wider Middle East. Iraq has been the epicenter for change in Middle East- for millennia, Iraq has often been the catalyst, the precursor regional order— or disorder!

I dare say that there is now an opportunity to reorient Iraq’s trajectory and propel the country towards prosperity and stability. This will require embarking on fundamental internal reforms, both political and economic.

As such, Iraq is in need of an internal dialogue to address the underlying structural flaws at the crux of the post-2003 political order. Iraqis are indignant at years of conflict and the failure to deliver services. Restoring basic services like water and electricity, reconstruction of the devastated communities by the war with DAESH and repatriation of our IDPs to their homes is an urgent challenge. Corruption and abuse of public funds undermine the viability of the Iraqi state and sustains the cycle of conflict and terrorism. It is imperative to dry up the swamp of corruption.

The defeat of ISIS was undeniably a monumental challenge and impressive success for Iraqi armed forces— the Army, Police, Hashd Al Shabi mobilized by the fatwa of Ayatollah Sistani and Peshmerga forces fought side by side and have become battle hardened. In this context, we are grateful for the help rendered by our allies in the international coalition, led by the United States and which comprised many nations including our generous host Italy. The task ahead is to enhance our defense and intelligence capabilities, integrate our armed forces within the framework of our national defense institution and affirming accountability of all armed forces to the state.

There remain issues of contention between the Kurdistan Region and federal government— time to resolve these issues in a fundamental way through adhering to the constitution. There is renewed hope as the our new PM Dr Adil Abdul Mahdi and the Kurdistan leadership have pledged to move on to resolve these outstanding issues. The recent agreement to resume oil exports from Kirkuk to Ceyhan is a welcomed gesture in this context.

However, ending the crises that plague Iraq also require a reconstruction of the current political order to restore citizen trust in the government. A reformed political order must be based on the protecting constitution, the civil state that strengthens civic values, supports the role of women and their rights, and ensures a commitment to human rights.

A most important and consequential challenge for Iraq today is economic reform and regeneration. Iraq is endowed with immense natural resources, water and fertile land— and an indispensable geopolitical position that can become the hub for regional trade and economic integration. Yet decades of war, sanctions, conflicts, economic mismanagement and corruption have tuned Iraq into an extreme rentier state. This is unsustainable— we are today a 38 million population, and increasing at a rate of one million each year— youth unemployment is rampant— this is a profound security, social and development challenge.

The new government, led by Adil Abdul Mahdi, a pragmatic reformer and economist, is pursuing an ambitious economic restructuring agenda based on empowering the private sector and promoting investment. The unity of Iraq and its security is crucially dependent on strengthening infrastructure links within Iraq and with the neighborhood. This is imperative to bind the country together and to promote common interests with the neighbors and to ensure job opportunities for our youth.

Iraq will be eliminating impediments to Iraqi and foreign private sector companies, as well as international financial institutions, donor countries and sovereign wealth to invest in major infrastructure projects. These projects may include deep port facilities in Basra, a highway network, new railways, airports, industrial cities and dams, and irrigation projects in the Nineveh Plain, Garamian, Erbil, as well as land reclamation in the south. Similar experiences can be seen in Thailand, Vietnam and India, which attracted investment funding from sovereign wealth funds in Japan, China and the Gulf.

In addition to local economic growth, these projects could also contribute to regional economic prosperity. Iraq is an important strategic hub that joins the Arab world with Iran and Turkey and connects the economies of the Gulf and Europe. These could connect the countries of the region so that Iraq could become the heart of a new Silk Road to the Mediterranean.

But for Iraq to succeed and stabilize, it requires a regional order that can embrace and nurture its stability. Iraq has been the domain for regional power struggles— the rivalry over Iraq, and within Iraq, among regional and global actors have sustained and deepened Iraqi crisis. For the last forty years, Iraq has been moving from a war to a war, sanctions and terrorist onslaught and condemned to en ever deepening cycle of crises. This is got to end. It is time Iraq’s stability and prosperity is turned into a common intertest in the neighborhood. Iraq is an important country in the Arab world— This Arab anchor for Iraq is vital economically and politically, and we are emphatic about fully developing our relations with our Arab and Gulf neighbors. Our relations with Iran is also important, we share a border of 1400 km, and much social and cultural bonds — and it is in our national interest to promote good relations with Iran and alike with our northern neighbor, Turkey, which is undeniably an important economic geopolitical actor.

I just come back from a tour to our neighbors in Kuwait, UAE, Jordan, Iran and Saudi Arabia— our message was that Iraq is adamant to protect its independence and sovereignty— our priority is economic regeneration and jobs for our youth— and that we want Iraq’s stability, sovereignty and prosperity to be shared interests for the neighborhood. I made the point that Iraq’s prospects for success is real, but remains precarious, so it should NOT be burdened with further tensions and escalations in the neighborhood. The Middle East needs a regional order based on shared security interests in the face of violent extremists and also rooted in economic collaboration and integration. As in the past, sovereign Iraq with its geopolitical, cultural and economic relevance can be a catalyst for such an order.

I am sure many of you will consider this as too ambitious— perhaps mere wishful thinking. Europe did it after two devastating World Wars— many other regions of the world have moved away from decades of conflict. We must pursue this agenda for our region with vigor and determination— it is primarily our responsibility in the region— and our people deserve better. However, legions of unemployed youth, millions of IDPs in camps— poverty and conflict are the incubators for terrorism, extremism and yes immigrants fleeing our fertile an rich lands to come to the shores of Europe— this should also be shared global interest— certainly a European interest.

This conference theme is about youth and women empowerment. The agenda of reform in Iraq, and the vision for a durable regional order in the Middle East, is what will defeat violent extremism through providing education, meaningful job opportunities for our youth and prioritizing human development as a core aim for our governments and for the global powers.

Thank you.

(Source: Office of the Iraqi President)

Posted in Construction & Engineering In Iraq, Iraq Industry & Trade News, Politics, Security 2 Comments

Saudia Airlines

Saudia Airlines to fly to Erbil

By John Lee.

Saudia Airlines has announced that it will start direct services to Erbil in October.

The service will offer three flights per week from Jeddah.

(Source: Saudia Airlines)

Posted in Iraq Transportation News Comments Off on Saudia Airlines to fly to Erbil

Ahmed Tabaqchali, AMT IRIS 2 resized

Iran, Sanctions and Iraq: The Bigger Picture

By Ahmed Tabaqchali. Originally published by Iraq in Context; re-published by Iraq Business News with permission. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Current analysis of renewed Iran sanctions often overlooks the wider context of Iraq’s regional trading relations. 

The extent of Iraq’s compliance with US sanctions on Iran has raised concerns regarding the loss of Iranian exports to its economy. However, Iraq’s trade with Iran, when looked at in the context of the wider region, shows these concerns in a different light.

It is arguably smaller than is widely perceived, especially given the long border between the two nations and the supposedly strong influence of Iran in Iraq, something which is contested.

There are many variables, following the imposition of sanctions, that will influence Iraq’s economy and trading relationships, making it difficult to examine any change in Iraq-Iran trade in isolation. Some of these variables are China’s response to these sanctions – its continued or increased purchase of Iranian oil or to impose tariffs on US crude- in light of its escalating trade war with the US.

Add to this the effects on oil demand from a change in world growth prospects as a result of an intensifying US-China trade war. Balancing or complicating events is the success of Saudi Arabia in sustaining increased oil production, or Iraq’s ability to increase its oil production. Finally, the state of the Turkish economy and the declining value of the Turkish Lira (TL[i]), in light of recent events, will play essential roles given Turkey’s substantial trading relationship with Iraq.

Much of the recent coverage of Iran’s trading relationship with Iraq refers to the significant annual exports of USD 12bn- which while significant, should be taken in the framework of Iraq’s overall imports and the trend of these imports from 2003-2017 (chart below). Additionally, Iran’s trade like, all other neighbouring nations’ trade with Iraq, is one-sided to its benefit. Iranian exports to Iraq are made up of goods and services, with the goods element at about USD 6bn for the 12 months ending March 2018[ii], which corresponds to about 15% of Iraq’s imports for 2017.

Iraq’s imports exploded six-fold from 2003 until 2013 to satisfy the population’s demand for goods after the isolation of the years under the sanctions. All of Iraq’s neighbours: Turkey, Iran and Jordan saw massive growth of exports to Iraq during this period for all types of goods, from fresh foods to finished products, given the near destruction of Iraq’ capacity to produce during the 14 years of sanctions and the ensuing civil war.

Iraqi Imports 2003-2017

 

(Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/iraq/imports)

Iraq imports peaked in 2013, after which the twin shocks of the ISIS war and the collapse in oil prices crushed the economy and with-it Iraq’s demand for goods. The effects of the ensuing ISIS conflict on overland trade routes affected the relative performance in the following years of each country’s exports.

The transit routes and volumes for 2014 (before the full effects of conflict and economic contraction) show the relative importance for each route, not only for the trade with a particular country, but that country’s additional role as a source of re-exports (chart below). In particular, Turaybill for Jordanian exports and re-exports coming from Aqaba, Kuwait’s Safwan, and Basra as a route for world exports as well as for UAE exports and re-exports from Jebil Ali. By 2014 exports from Syria ceased with the exception of the Al Waleed crossing, until it too ended when it fell under ISIS control in May 2015[iii]. Trade with Saudi Arabia ended with the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Iraq: Trade transit routes & volumes 2014

 (Source: Chart taken from a World Bank Report[iv])

Iranian exports peaked in absolute terms in 2013, declining by about 6% by 2017, while Iraq’s imports declined by 36%, with the result that Iran increased its market share from 11% in 2013 to 15% in 2017. However, this has more to do with the trade routes than any special relationship that Iraq might have with Iran or Iran’s competitiveness. The ISIS occupation closed Iraq’s trade route with Jordan, Syria and degraded the value of the routes with Turkey given ISIS’s occupation of Mosul and surrounding areas.

The growth in Iran’s exports from 2004 is shown in the chart below (data are based on the Iranian calendar up to the year 1395, ending in March 2017). Latest reports indicate that the figure was almost unchanged for the year ending in March 2018. Yet, Iraq’s overall imports recovered by 13% in 2017 vs 2016, and its imports from Jordan and Turkey increased by 8% and 19% respectively. All of which put the relative value of trade with Iran in context.

Given Iran’s natural geographical advantages from the long border and its supposed hegemony over Iraq, it can be argued that it should have accounted for much more of Iraq’s imports or at least cemented its conflict enhanced position when Iraq’s imports recovered. Instead it lost market share from 2016 to 2017, implying that it would continue to lose market share without the imposition of sanctions, and as such the sanctions would only accelerate this trend.

Iranian exports to Iraq 2004 – 2016

 

(Source: http://www.iraqbase.com/trade_with_iraq/iraq_tradition.aspx#c_31)

While Turkey’s exports of around USD 12bn in 2013 were twice Iran’s levels, most of these exports were destined for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) in which Turkish goods and companies played a significant role in the economic boom the region witnessed until 2014.  The KRI, in 2017, accounted for 67% of all Turkey’s exports to Iraq up from 50% in 2007[v].

Turkish exports to Iraq suffered significantly due to the triple shock to the KRI’s economy – the loss of federal budget transfers, the ISIS conflict and the oil price collapse – as well as from the contraction of the Iraqi economy. Turkish exports declined 36% in 2013-2016 vs a decline of 43% in Iraq’s total imports, increasing its market share from 20% to 22%. The effective gain in market share is more significant than that, as most of these exports were for Iraq overall as opposed to being concentrated in the KRI. Turkish exports’ 18% recovery in 2017 and total imports’ 13% increase vs flat Iranian exports emphasises the competitiveness of Turkey’s exports whether due to quality or currency competitiveness vs the Iranian Rial.

Finally, the value of Turkish exports actually increased by about 25% in TL terms[vi], as the TL exchange rate against the USD decreased from TL 2.15 by end of 2013 to TL 3.79 by the end of 2017. All of which underlines the importance to Turkey of its exports to Iraq, especially in light of the 40% decline in the TL vs the USD so far in 2018. The significance of these exports might very well increase Iraq’s bargaining power with Turkey over many issues, particularly the water flow of the Tigris and Euphrates. Iraq’s relative bargaining power is further enhanced by the fees -converted to TL- collected for the oil that is shipped through Turkey to its port of Cihan, especially if Iraq resumes the Kirkuk oil exports of 250,000-300,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) that were cut after it reasserted feral authority over these fields in October 2017[vii].

Turkish exports to Iraq 2004 – 2017

 

(Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/turkey/exports/iraq)

Jordan’s exports and re-exports to Iraq suffered a great deal due to the closure of the land routes as a result of the ISIS occupation and subsequent conflict. The chart below shows a decline of 64% from 2013 to 2016 in Jordan’s exports, and probably a similar decline for re-exports. The mild recovery of 8% by 2017 from 2016’s low levels should be seen in the context that the trade route only reopened in October 2017, which argues well for meaningful growth in 2018[viii]. While Jordan’s economy is too small to fully replace Iran’s exports, its fresh foods[ix] would fill some of the gap and its much larger re-exports through Aqaba will make a difference.

Jordan’s exports to Iraq 2003-2016

 

(Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/jordan/exports/iraq)

Kuwait’s exports to Iraq recovered meaningfully in 2017 after a decline in 2013-2016, yet overall volumes are small. Most of these are re-exports through Safwan as Kuwait’s ports complement Basra.

Kuwait’s exports to Iraq 2003-2017

 

(Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/kuwait/exports/iraq)

The biggest potential beneficiaries from the sanctions would be Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Developing their relationship and influence in Iraq through trade and investments is magnified without competition from Iranian goods. Their economies would benefit from both the opportunity to replace Iranian products and from a sizeable recovering market. Even though 2016[x] was a low point for UAE’s total exports to Iraq, exports accounted for 53% of the mix making Iraq the seventh largest export market, while re-exports accounted for 47% of the mix, with Iraq as the fourth largest re-export market.  All of which highlights Iraq’s importance to both the UAE’s economy and its vital re-export business.

UAE’s exports to Iraq 2003-2016

 

(Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/united-arab-emirates/exports/iraq)

Trading with Saudi Arabia ended with the occupation of Kuwait, and while it saw a recovery since 2003, it remained tiny compared to the sizes of the two economies. The re-opening of the Arar border crossing in late 2017, coupled with the re-setting of the relationship, will change this significantly with Saudi expectations that trading values would approach those of Iran in ten years’ time[xi].

Saudi Arabia’s exports to Iraq 2003-2016

 

(Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/saudi-arabia/exports/iraq)

However, there is more to Iraq’s trade with Iran other than its exports of goods, as the relationship includes the export of electricity and gas, as well religious tourism in the form of at least three million religious tourists a year, especially during the annual Arbaeen pilgrimage.

Iran’s recent exports of electricity have been about 1.0 gigawatts[xii] (GW) increasing available domestic supply to 18.91 GW[xiii] by end of 2016. However, the supply has been frequently interrupted since 2015 as Iraq has failed to make the required contractual payments to Iran[xiv]. The supply cut in July 2018 being the latest case – which was a combination of over-due bills of about USD 1bn[xv] and Iran’s increased domestic needs for electricity. The argument over the importance of this supply has been made moot as Iran would not be able to resume exports in the near future, due to its own domestic needs[xvi]. Short-term solutions to replace this lost supply from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have the potential to become long-term solutions that will further cement the relationship.

For instance, Kuwait supplying fuel for some of the inactive power stations would go some way for Iraq to increase the utilization of its available but unutilized generating capacity due to lack of fuel. This relationship could be developed to one of mutual benefits with Kuwait supplying electricity in return for Iraq supplying gas[xvii], which while mutually beneficial would help the rebuilding of trust. Similarly, discussions with Saudi Arabia for the supply of electricity, possibly under much more advantageous commercial terms[xviii] than those with Iran, would further develop this relationship.

Much more troublesome and very difficult to replace would be the supply of Iranian gas to power stations in Baghdad and Basra – these were based on deals signed in 2013 to supply 9.1 Billion Cubic Meter (BCM) a year to each city. Exports to Baghdad started in June 2017 and totalled 1.2 BCM by November 2017[xix], while exports to Basra were supposed to start after May 2018[xx].  Both sides have been silent on this recently, as media reports have only covered Iraq’s implementation of the sanctions in the form of banking transactions and closing access to Iranian goods. While details could be delayed until the November implementation of the oil sanctions or Iraq would seek waivers. Either way, there are no easy or short-term solutions for the replacement of this vital supply apart from increased focus and spending on capturing flared gas. However, this gas has been only available recently, and in relatively small quantities, while its eventual replacement, i.e. gas recovered from flaring, is substantially cheaper as the Iraqi government pays the Basra Gas Company (BGC) about USD 2.50 per MMBtu vs for Iranian USD 6.6 – 7.2 per MMBtu[xxi] (data as of early 2018).

Religious tourism is an important sector, employing about 160,000 people directly, extending to 447,000 beneficiaries (2014 data[xxii]). While, Iranian pilgrims and visitors are an essential component in religious tourism, yet a significant percentage of pilgrims or visitors are Iraqis. Moreover, the importance to Iraq’s economy from the spending of Iran’s pilgrims is somewhat misunderstood or overstated. For instance, during the Arbaeen, Iraqis provide hospitality through offering accommodation in their homes and providing free food as part of their religious duties towards the pilgrims[xxiii]. As such, the extra consumer spending during the most prominent religious event comes from Iraqis. The spending by regular Iranian religious visitors, throughout the year, will not be so easily replaced- although it is mitigated by the fact that almost all those visitors use Iranian airlines and employ Iranian tour operators.

Finally, the effects, of the loss of USD access for Iran, on Iraq would take a long time to assess. In 2012, the governor of the Central Bank of Iraq[xxiv] suggested that there were increased demands of 40-50% for the USD following the imposition of sanctions on Syria and Iran, which led to an increase in the market price of the USD vs the Iraqi Dinar (IQD) as can be seen from the chart below.

Iraqi Dinar (IQD) exchange rate versus the USD Jan 2011 – August 2018

 

(Source: Central Bank of Iraq, Iraqi currency exchange houses, Asia Frontier Capital)

(Note: The sharp pikes in 2012, 2013 & 2015 were due to CBI policies that restricted the sale of USD, but abandoned after causing a rise in market rates)

The convergence of the market price of the USD and the official exchange rate vs the IQD came to an end in 2011 and diverged in 2012 due to the increased demand for the USD. Apart from the spikes due to policies to limit the official supply of the USD, the normal range was 2-4% premium of the market price over the official rate. This increased up to a 10% premium during the worst of the crisis as oil revenues were substantially below expenditures and exports were less than imports. This divergence came to an end with the recovery in oil prices and the declining cost of war until it stabilized at around 1.5% premium to the official exchange rate.

It’s difficult to make the same argument today about the increased demand, or at least a sharp increase, from the current round of sanctions given that the re-integration of Iran with the world economy following the signing of the JCPOA (The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) still suffered from the reluctance[xxv] of most banks to deal with Iran. In particular, Iran’s access to the USD continued to be severely limited. All of which might explain that the signing of the JCPOA had not affected the market price of the USD vs the IQD.

However, it is worth noting that after a stabilization over the last few months, the premium of the market price over the official rate increased in early August from about 1.5% to over 2%. This might be related to the sanctions effect or to the signs of recovery of the local economy from increased consumer spending and the resultant increase in demand for imports. A full recovery in consumer demand for imported products would likely take the premium to a range of 2-4%.

It can be argued, that while Iraq genuinely disapproves of the Iranian sanctions given its own bitter 14 years’ experience with them, yet it stands to benefit from their imposition as they will fast-track a number of positive trends that are already taking place.

Iraq’s new-found ability to self-fund its reconstruction, estimated at about USD 18.8bn by end of 2018[xxvi], will accelerate its economic recovery through a liquidity injection of 14.5% into the non-oil economy once reconstruction projects are underway. In the process making the country extremely attractive for its neighbours’ economies, both as a goods export destination and for re-construction businesses. The opportunity to replace Iranian goods increases the benefit for these exporters. Ultimately, this will cement the USD 30bn pledged for the reconstruction of Iraq at the Kuwait Conference[xxvii] from promises into actual spending that will benefit the economies of the providers as much as Iraq’s economy. The deeper implication is a change in their relationship from that of benefactors into partners which will ensure its sustainability- in the process speeding Iraq’s re-integration in the region and ensure a balanced relationship with its neighbours.

The re-opening of the Iraq-Saudi Arabia border crossing and the Iraq-Jordan border crossings will accelerate the rehabilitation of Anbar (arguably disenfranchised after 2003 and a seat of resentment for the post-2003 political order), and the southern governorates (neglected by both the current and the prior regimes). The resumption of trade-links with their associated economic activities would provide a huge boost to the local economies, which while contributing meaningfully to the healing process, will build upon and magnify the economic revival until it becomes self-sustaining with the boost from reconstruction.

Meanwhile, the relationship with Iran might mature if the Iranians look beyond their frustration at Iraq’s compliance with the sanctions and listen closely the anti-government sentiment within Iran following the December 2017 demonstrations. What is vital here, and something that would increase stability within Iraq, is a complete rethinking the relationship to that of a state to state basis from the current relationship involving sub-state actors. This would subsequently benefit Iran by making another Iraqi security crisis less likely, and ensuring the relationship is based on national sentiment, rather than non state actors.

Disclaimer

Ahmed Tabaqchali’s comments, opinions and analyses are personal views and are intended to be for informational purposes and general interest only and should not be construed as individual investment advice or a recommendation or solicitation to buy, sell or hold any fund or security or to adopt any investment strategy. It does not constitute legal or tax or investment advice. The information provided in this material is compiled from sources that are believed to be reliable, but no guarantee is made of its correctness, is rendered as at publication date and may change without notice and it is not intended as a complete analysis of every material fact regarding Iraq, the region, market or investment.

[i] The code for Turkish Lira is TYR, but TL is used widely. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkish_lira

[ii] The 12 months ending in March 2018 correspond to the Iranian year 1396. Iranian data are provided using this calendar.

 https://financialtribune.com/articles/economy-business-and-markets/81287/iran-third-biggest-trading-partner-of-iraq-with-16-share

[iii] Al Waleed crossing was freed by Iraqi forces in June 2017. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-syria/iraqi-forces-remove-islamic-state-fighters-from-vicinity-of-u-s-base-in-syria-idUSKBN19807Y

[iv] http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/672671468196766598/pdf/106132-v2-main-report-P159972-PUBLIC-KRG-Economic-Reform-Roadmap-post-Decision-Review-05-30-16.pdf

[v] https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/turkey-and-the-krg-signs-of-booming-economic-ties-infographic

[vi] Arrived at by diving the value of exports by the year end value of the TL.

[vii] Iraq’s bargaining power is further enhanced if it links this with plans to double Kirkuk’s output over the next few yeaes

 The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) exported an average of 550,000 bbl/d in 2017 until October 2017. After which they ranged between about 240,000-370,000 bb/d for an average of 311,000.

http://auis.edu.krd/iris/sites/default/files/Statehood in KRI through an Economic Lens_ FINAL.pdf pages 6 & 7, page 7 footnote 15.

[viii] http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/industrial-exports-iraq-resume-after-border-reopening

[ix] Although most of Jordan’s exports are currently value-add products. In 2016, Pharmaceutical Products accounted for 16% of total exports, Electrical & Electronic Equipment for 13%; Fertilizers for 12%; plastics for 11%. While Vegetable, Fruits & Nut food preparation accounted for only 2.3%, and Edible Vegetables, certain roots and Tubers accounted for 2.2% for a total under 5%.

[x] http://iraqieconomists.net/en/2017/09/19/uae-iraq-trade-touches-7-billion-2016/

[xi] https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/saudi-iraqi-trade-to-reach-23-billion-saudi-riyals-within-10-years-1.706487

[xii] https://en.mehrnews.com/news/122562/Iran-to-resume-electricity-exports-to-Iraq-within-weeks

[xiii] Table 3, page 79 ““A New Hope: Iraq Oil’s Way Forward” http://www.bayancenter.org/en/2018/02/1435/

   Figures from the Ministry of Electricity show that available capacity, was 16.0 GW by end of July 2018, which does not include the lost Iranian supply. https://moelc.gov.iq/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=4212

[xiv] This article explains the nature of the relationship and the history of the under-payments https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/the-irgc-may-try-to-divert-iraqs-electricity-payments

[xv] https://theiranproject.com/blog/2018/07/08/iran-cuts-electricity-supplies-to-iraq-over-unpaid-bills/

[xvi] https://theiranproject.com/blog/2018/07/17/govt-spox-iran-not-to-resume-electricity-supplies-to-iraq-in-near-future/

[xvii] https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170202-kuwait-considers-export-of-electricity-to-iraq/

[xviii] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-07-29/iraq-says-saudis-to-sell-it-power-at-a-fraction-of-iran-s-price

[xix] Page 82 “A New Hope: Iraq Oil’s Way Forward” http://www.bayancenter.org/en/2018/02/1435/

[xx] http://www.irna.ir/en/News/82906994

[xxi] Page 82 “A New Hope: Iraq Oil’s Way Forward” http://www.bayancenter.org/en/2018/02/1435/

[xxii] http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/255111529495871846/pdf/Jobs-in-Iraq-a-primer-on-job-creation-in-the-short-term.pdf

[xxiii] http://www.bbc.com/travel/gallery/20171220-the-iraq-city-that-opens-its-doors

[xxiv] https://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/04/12/207233.html

[xxv] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-banks-kerry-idUSKCN0Y30OJ

[xxvi] A recent report by the author covers this in further detail.http://www.iraq-businessnews.com/2018/06/15/forget-the-donations-stupid-new-dynamics-in-funding-reconstruction/

[xxvii] https://uk.reuters.com/article/mideast-crisis-iraq-reconstruction/factbox-pledges-made-for-iraqs-reconstruction-in-kuwait-idUKL8N1Q55RY

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