The second is simpler – when the slicing and dicing of budgets was going on in Whitehall, Iraq was a pretty poisonous word and it was far easier to cut-and-run than justify what may happen in 12 months’ time in terms of trade.
Both reasons are pretty lame and both demonstrate a lack of foresight and fortitude.
Another weak link in the UK Governments efforts to build a commercial relationship in Iraq is the blinkered approach of the UK Border Agency. This Agency still appears to assume that any Iraqi national wishing to visit the UK is a probably refugee. Of the ½ dozen companies we are working with at the moment all wish to bring Iraqi’s into the UK – this is either to buy equipment, be trained up to service / use quite complex oil-field equipment or just to build relationships.
The process for an Iraqi national wishing to come to the UK is that he / she needs to apply for a Visas in Amman where, because of a combination of the Muslim working week clashing with the UK working week and the requirement for the UKBA to review applications in the UK, the whole process can take 7 to 10 days to process an application. As an example of what this means in practical terms the costs of having a group of 5 technical staff in Amman waiting for someone in the UK to review an application and then send the approval / rejection back to Amman can be as high as $30,000 – which the supplier picks up either reducing their margin or their competitiveness. One British company we are working with just sent their Clients to their office in Germany using a Schengen Visa …….. issued locally …… to avoid the UKBA.
Recently Baroness Nicholson had to apologise for the UKBA after “several delegates” to a mining Conference in London “had their travel plans delayed” nothing that “the British visa system was an inhibitor rather than a facilitator”. How very diplomatic. These guys were going to a conference in one of the World’s Conference Centre to encourage investment in Iraq and sent a sizeable delegation to the UK and most of them were Iraqi Government officials. Still – lucky we had someone from the House of Lords to appologise for our Government.
I can (just about) buy the argument on the costs of maintaining a functioning office of UKTI in Iraq (but do not see what most of our competitors are prepared to put the commitment in). There is no way that I understand the level of pig-headedness of the UK Border Agency and their blockages the commercial opportunity of a generation.
Come on Vince – you are in charge of Exports and Trade in the UK, get it sorted out, there's a good chap.