Trade fairs highlight appeal of "the Other Iraq"
By Raber Y. Aziz of AKnews
Erbil, Sept. 30 (AKnews) –The just-completed Project Iraq 2010 construction trade fair in Erbil underscores the growing interest of business in Kurdistan.
Project Iraq 2010 brought together 207 companies from 23 companies over four days. It's the 32nd international trade fair in Erbil since 2005, and the 6th this year. Participants say Kurdistan is a great place to invest and plan to come back to the next fair planned for the coming months.
"We are here to explore business," said Malaysia's senior trade commissioner Dato' Zulkifli, "and Erbil is a good place to do this," stressing that he will be coming back for more fairs "with more Malaysian exhibitors"
Iraq has been the centre of attraction over the past few years with particular interest from the international business community in the region of Kurdistan now dubbed as "The Other Iraq" because of its greater security and stability.
207 companies from 23 countries exhibited their goods on an indoor area of 10,000 square meters for the light machines and goods, and an outdoor of 2,000 square meters for heavy machines. They were all there for the same purpose: promote their goods in the Kurdish market and find local partners.
Turkey held the lion's share of the exhibition with 45 companies showing their goods, followed by Iran with 42 companies. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Lebanon, Jordan, Italy, and Germany were among those countries that also had a notable presence in the fair.
Three other international exhibitions are planned for October and November, said Latif Aref director Erbil Expo which hosts the fairs, raising the number of international shows to nine from seven a year earlier.
As foreigners become aware of the situation in Kurdistan, more and more begin to flow into the region competing for the investment opportunities, given the fact that the huge budget of Kurdistan is mainly spent on construction, according to Latif Aref, director of Erbil Expo which hosts the international exhibitions in Erbil.
"The Kurdistan Region is a growing economy, especially in construction…we are seeking prospects of doing business here" said Bulent Askar, representative of the Turkish Hakan Plastic, one of Turkey largest corporations for PVC pipe systems, also present here at last year's fair.
Hakan Plastic participated in the fair to support their dealer in northern Iraq, Kiman Company who imports their PVC pipes.
Both the Hakan Plastik representative and Kiman Director, Haval Ali, found no difficulties in their participation in the fair. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has been helpful and provides all facilities to attract more foreign investors.
The KRG Law of Investment, passed in July 2006, is one of the friendliest laws to foreign investors looking for profitable business ventures.
Under the law, investors are entitled to buy and own land for investment purposes, in addition to ownership of all the capital of any project, 10 year non-custom tax break, allocation of free or reduced price land for investment projects, and full repatriation of profits.
Mr Ali said there had been negotiations with the other local companies and businesses during the first three days, "but we just cannot tell who is the serious one" as there are many.
Many of the exhibitors have been to other Erbil international fairs before and look forward to attending more fairs in the future, with hopes to find partners. Kurdistan is an ever-growing market.
"Kurdistan is a growing region; the KRG wants to develop it. Malaysia would like to be a partner" said the Malaysian trade commissioner Dato Zulkifli, who had come to Erbil for the first time.
"I have met with the KRG Minister of Construction and Housing, and had discussions with the Sulaimaniyah Chamber of Commerce, Erbil Chamber of Commerce and other officials" said Zulkifli, "to have a good understanding of the region in order to expand our business in Kurdistan"
Mr Zulkifli said trade exchange volume between Iraq and Malaysia in 2009 was $156 million. For the first seven months of 2010 the exchange between the two countries was $43 million, and they are seeking to increase the total exchange volume figure for 2010.
"We supply mainly electricity appliances like CD players, TVs, Radio, and chemical products, in addiction to building materials" Zulkifli said, the worth of which in the first seven months of 2010 amounted to $20 million out of the 43 exchange volume for the period.
But the $23 million of Iraqi exports to Malaysia comprised of "only petroleum" the Malaysian official said.
"I wish to see more Iraqi exports to Malaysia… when I was a child, during Ramadan, I usually had dates (for breaking the fast) from Iraq's Basra city, but now I have to buy dates imported from Kuwait, UAE or Iran"
Basra palm plantations were among the largest in Iraq and the world which produced the finest dates, however, due to the devastating eight-year Iraq-Iran war thousands of palm trees were eradicated as they came under shelling and rocket fire, and recently, farmers were complaining of the government's neglect of the palm industry.
Germany's giant machine manufacturer ELBA which has been active in Iraq and the Kurdistan region for more than 30 years supplying equipment to local projects is now concentrating on the Kurdistan Region due to its safety and prosperity.
The German manufacturer has been exhibiting its goods in Erbil for the last three years, yet, "Erbil is still the best place to do it" ELBA's Middle East delegate Mr Alois Peier says. "We'd like to expand our business"
He says Germans are more and more interested in Kurdistan every year as more companies begin to flow to the region.
In comparison to the seven German companies participating in the fair, the UK participation was very limited with only two companies.
The representative of UK's largest manufacturer of electric water heating products Heatrae Sadia, Steve Latraché says that is because of "many problems in Baghdad… there is lot of misunderstanding about Iraq and Kurdistan, perhaps they don't understand that Kurdistan is a region with its own government".
"I have to confess that I've seen no problems… My only difficulty is perhaps there is no direct UK-Erbil flight, I have to go to Jordan then Iraq."