TOP IRAQI BUSINESS LEADERS MEET IN LONDON FOR HIGH LEVEL CONFERENCE ON “ACCENTUATING THE POSITIVE”
More than 70 of Iraq’s most senior business leaders attended the second day of the Iraq Britain Business Council’s November conference held in London on Thursday (November 6th).
Representatives from Chambers of Commerce, Investment Commissions and Governorates across Iraq joined more than 150 British members of the IBBC for the event, held at UKTI’s 1, Victoria Street headquarters in Westminster.
The substantial Iraqi delegation were determined to come to the bi-annual conference despite the challenging situation in some areas of the country. Incredibly, two men had to cross the Islamic State frontline into Mosul in order to get bank statements and other proof of identity to get their UK visas.
Almost all regions of Iraq were represented by the delegation, which was led by Rasmi Al Jabri, a founding IBBC Board member and chairman of the Basra Engineering Group.
Mr Al Jabri chaired a panel consisting of some of Iraq’s most senior business figures who each outlined the opportunities on offer in their respective regions.
Dr Luay Khairulla, Chairman of the Thi Qar Investment Commission, Abather Omer Falih, the Deputy Governor of Thi Qar Province, Nabeel Al Anbari, Chairman of the Kerbala Chamber of Commerce, Mr Zuhair Sherba, Chairman of the Najaf Chamber of Commerce, Mazin Abulzehra, Basra Investment Commission, and Mr Ayad Abdulalim, Chairman of the Dohuk Chamber of Commerce, joined Mr Al Jabri.
They told the conference that many areas were rich in oil and mineral deposits, whilst others offered almost unlimited potential in the agricultural field.
Tourism was also another largely unexplored resource for many of the regions. Areas such as Babylon and Thi Qar offered a wealth of prospects to foreign travellers, and the holy cities of Kerbala and Najaf had few rivals anywhere in the world.
The group invited fellow IBBC members to come out and see for themselves the opportunities on offer. All confirmed that despite the recent challenging situation, most parts of the country were safe and working as normal.
A panel, which included some of the IBBC’s most well established members, was able to convey their admiration and respect for Iraq and its people to newer members of the Council.
Gavin Wishart, from Standard Chartered Bank, Greg Hammond from Eversheds, Sarah Cain of HWH & Associates, David Brown of PTS Ltd, and Donna Hutchinson of ICR Integrity were all involved in the discussion, hosted by IBBC Commercial Adviser, Richard Cotton.
All emphasised the huge opportunities on offer for UK business in Iraq, and also their determination to create much-needed employment for local people and to use local resources where possible.
The link between education and business and its potential to help Iraq to develop featured strongly in the day’s discussions.
Four British universities have now joined the IBBC’s ranks and the Council is hoping to recruit several more from the UK and also from Iraq and possibly the United States.
Nigel Birch, Business Development Officer at the University of Wolverhampton – a recent IBBC member – explained his college’s approach to using academia as an economic driving force.
The university recognised quickly that they could play a huge role in driving their local economy and local enterprise.
“80% of our graduates come from within a 30km radius of the city. Amazingly 80% of them remain within that same radius after graduation. Therefore, if we are not driving the local economy where are our graduates going to work?”
Using the expertise they have gained from helping boost the West Midlands’ economy, the institution started to look at global survivability of enterprises within stressed communities, such as Vietnam, Colombia, Nigeria and Northern Ireland.
The results showed that it came down to these countries building “micro-economies.” Building private enterprise with “passion, innovation, mental toughness, sustainable business and leadership.”
“We do not necessarily look for short-term outputs, but to create a dynamic wave, a ripple, through the local economy,” continued Mr Birch.
Wolverhampton has recently been involved in two projects in Nigeria and Oman which perfectly illustrated how British Universities can help develop and promote an emerging economy.
In the dangerous north of Nigeria, Mr Birch visited a small university there and started by helping them get finance from local banks and from crowd-sourcing. This meant that they could fund creditable business ideas and start to generate GDP by creating employment opportunities.
With the terrorist group Boko Haram only a few kilometres away, the region “had almost no hope when we got there,” he continued. The project was successful and Mr Birch believes this is just the start.
“We have only scratched the surface, but it has started the ball rolling. Banks now come to us and ask when we are coming to Nigeria again – we have created that ripple in the pond.”
The award-winning project had created engagement with 175 graduates, and 25 businesses had started up as a result, employing 40 local people. It was a model that Mr Birch would like to see beginning in Iraq.
The IBBC conference has presented an overwhelmingly positive view of the opportunities available to British business in Iraq.
In her welcome note, the Council’s Executive Chairman, Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, illustrated that confidence by telling delegates that the IBBC had admitted 15 new members of “the highest quality” in the last year alone.
The Head of UKTI, Stuart Smith, talked of the important role UK business had in helping Iraq come through the present challenging situation.
He said Iraq had the best “frontier” economy in the world. The fourth largest oil deposits, 10th largest gas reserves. The country could triple oil production by 2019 and by 2035 may become the second biggest oil producer behind Saudi Arabia.
As the country expands, health care, aerospace, and the power infrastructure could be the next big markets as Iraq expands.
Mr Smith said he was “hugely optimistic” about Iraq’s business landscape. British companies had the 3 C’s – capability, credibility and the capacity – to take on the challenges of the market there. However UK business must move quickly to prevent other nations filling the gaps.
Another British Government official, David Tang, of UK Export Finance, offered the organisation’s help to delegates hoping to set up in Iraq.
“We are here to provide assistance to exporters and to provide help to overseas buyers who are seeking finance for those business activities. We do that by providing guarantees against bank loans and we also provide insurance protection.”
The President of Iraq, Fuad Masum, sent a letter of thanks to Baroness Nicholson.
Mr Masum wrote: “We are grateful for your continuous support to our country and your feelings of solidarity towards our people. Furthermore, your efforts to strengthen Iraqi and British ties are deeply appreciated and we look forward to further cooperation between our two countries.”
The next IBBC conference will be held in June 2015 at Mansion House in the City of London.