Dubai-based construction firm Al Habtoor Leighton Group is in discussions over a $700 million offshore project in Iraq as it seeks more business outside the difficult UAE market, its CEO said on Tuesday.
Al Habtoor, an affiliate of Australia's Leighton Holding, is also eyeing a new infrastructure contract in Saudi Arabia and two in Oman by year-end, the firm's chief executive and managing director Laurie Voyer told Reuters.
"The company is very keen to take on more business outside the UAE," Voyer said at the Reuters Global Real Estate and Infrastructure Summit in Dubai.
Al Habtoor has said it hopes to generate about 50 per cent of its revenues by early 2012 from the UAE, down from around 80 per cent currently.
He said the firm would also look to slow its expansion plans into Libya in order to establish itself in other Gulf Arab countries.
Al Habtoor is in discussions over an offshore pipeline and SPM (single point mooring) project in Iraq in what would be its first contract there, and hopes to hear whether it is successful by the end of July, Voyer said.
"We're putting together a business case at the moment and (getting) a better understanding what it might take to move into Iraq," he said.
Construction firms have been rapidly expanding operations outside the UAE, where house prices in Dubai, the emirate hardest hit by the financial crisis, plunged some 60 percent from their peaks in 2008, and billions of dollars worth of projects were put on hold or cancelled.
Al Habtoor is eyeing a second contract in Saudi Arabia by year-end and hopes to have its own trading license in the kingdom in September, which Voyer said would help the firm win more business there.
"All of the metrics that you look at say there is a lot of work out there, but 85 per cent of the work is given to local companies. It's very difficult for a company like us to get the other 15 per cent," he said.
It won its first contract in Saudi Arabia last year in a joint venture with Saudi Arabian building firm Al Rajhi Projects.
Al Habtoor's total order book is expected to rise to around Dh30 billion ($8.17 billion) over the coming year from around Dh22 billion.
Its projects include the $1.8 billion St Regis Hotel and the $1.4 billion Khalifa Port projects in Abu Dhabi.