IBBC 6th Annual Conference 2013 – Full Report
IBBC 6TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, DAY ONE. NOVEMBER 4th
Some of Britain and Iraq’s most senior politicians joined top business leaders from both countries in early November for a London conference aimed at generating billions of pounds worth of inward and outward investment.
More than 300 company representatives, including more than 100 from Iraq, attended the conference, held at One Great George Street in London on Monday, November 4th and at One Victoria Street on Tuesday, November 5th.
The Iraqi Government was represented by its Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Rowsch Shaways. Senior British politicians, including the current Minister for Trade and Investment, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, and the former Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Howell of Guilford, also attended the event.
They were joined by both the UK Ambassador to Iraq, Simon Collis, and the new Iraqi Ambassador to the UK, Faik Nerweyi. The former NATO Secretary General and British Defence Secretary, Lord Robertson, also spoke.
Senior directors from multi-national companies such as Standard Chartered, PwC, Gardaworld, KBR, Deloitte, Eversheds, Saipem, Penspen, Nawah, Petrofac, Shell, BP, and Total, joined the gathering, as did big Iraqi concerns such as UB Holding, Al Arabiya Transport Company, Al Saraji Group, Al Tamimi, Al Qundus General Trading, Al Salami, and National Engineering.
The event was presided over by Baroness Nicholson, our Executive Chairman, and sponsored by UB Holding. The Northern Iraq-based multinational was represented by its Chief Executive Office, Hadi Nezir. The company now deals in everything from gas and oil, to construction, heavy industry, foodstuffs and tourism.
The London-based engineering and asset management business, Penspen, sponsored the evening reception at the House of Lords. Its CEO, Peter O’Sullivan, was the host.
Sheaffer Pen, represented by the company’s General Manager, Tim Williams, generously donated a ballpoint to each delegate.
During the conference itself, Lord Howell said that the UK wanted to see a stable, prosperous and democratic Iraq. He said the country had enormous potential, and the challenge now was to realise that.
He added that the British Government would stand with the people of Iraq against terrorism. Violence had no place in Iraq’s future.
Lord Howell said the whole of the Middle East, with its rapidly increasing and youthful population, was set to become a region of huge consumer power and influence and was closing the gap with the west.
Andrew Pringle, President of International Government, Defence and Support Services, at KBR, agreed that Iraq had “enormous potential”.
Mr Pringle said over the past 10 years KBR has learned a lot about working in Iraq. The oil business there was now on the edge of a gold rush, which should see its re-emergence as a prosperous nation.
The first panel discussion of the day featured PwC’s Alistair Kett, Sahib Sajjad from Saipem, Gavin Wishart, Standard Chartered’s Chief Executive in Iraq, and Rasmi Al Jabri, Chairman of the Basra Engineering Group. Standard Chartered is about to open its first bank in Baghdad, and will add a branch in Erbil towards the end of the year.
Mr Wishart said they were there for the long run and not for short-term gain.
Lord Green was another who spoke of Iraq’s huge strategic potential. “This is the country that was the birthplace of some of the world’s most important inventions like the 60-second clock and the wheel, and it now has a great deal to contribute to the modern world,” he said. Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Shaways, said Iraq could not forget the problems they faced. Security, corruption, and political difficulties, but they were sincere in tackling these and he was certain they would not be in vain. The afternoon’s panel featured Andrew Farquhar, from GardaWorld, Akeel Al Saffar, Deputy National Security Adviser for the Government of Iraq, Tim Williams from Sheaffer Pen, and Mike Douglas of SKA.
Mr Farquhar admitted that the political environment in Iraq was “not the most condusive” for business and was “tense”. The situation in neighbouring Syria was not helping the situation.
Despite this, Mr Farquhar said the situation in the long term would be better and would be acceptable for business. Indeed business was part of the solution. Mr Al Saffar said Iraq was now a stable country, one in which the rest of the world could invest and work. He blamed the media for painting an over-bleak picture of his country. “The media are not on our side. After an incident, they often enlarge the numbers of dead. This helps our enemies and not us,” said Mr Al Saffar.
He added: “Iraq is safe to work in. For British companies it is not only worth the investment, but will be good for rebuilding the image of UK goods as the best in the world.” Mr Douglas, the Chief Executive of SKA, said security should not be the main reason for not investing in Iraq. He added that these risks could be dealt with and mitigated.
The UK’s Ambassador to Iraq, Simon Collis, listed the main fears of potential investors. The political logjam, security, corruption, and lack of modern technology. However, these had to be set against the scale of the opportunity “Iraq is growing by 9% which makes it the fastest growing economy of all the 30-odd countries the British Government has identified as emerging powers.”
The Iraqi Ambassador to the UK, Mr Faik Nerweyi, spoke plainly about his nation’s many problems saying Iraq was “undoubtedly a difficult business partner.” He said this year alone 7000 people had perished as a result of terrorism. He talked of the grim years under Saddam Hussein’s rule. How the former President fragmented and broke the unity of the people.
Despite its many problems, said Mr Nerweyi, Iraq had so far resisted slipping into a full civil war but that could not be guaranteed forever. “Iraq needs millions of houses, schools, factories, water and electricity facilities, representing virtually endless opportunity for foreign investors. In short we are talking about building a whole infrastructure, where millions will find employment. “
Mr Nerweyi continued: “In the end, failure and defeat have no friend – and cannot be our option. We cannot fail, we deserve a better life, and we will have it.”
IBBC 6TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, DAY TWO. NOVEMBER 5TH
Representatives of many Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) attended the second day of the conference, held at the UKTI’s building at One Victoria Street. The main guest was the former NATO Secretary General and British Defence Secretary, Lord Robertson. He said he was “warmed” by the progress that had been made in Iraq today. He agreed that the media headlines did not help its cause.
“There’s an old saying in the press – if it bleeds, it leads. But there is really serious good news. Iraq has moved on from the fractures after Saddam and is now a place of enormous opportunity,” continued Lord Robertson. He said Iraq was not alone in experiencing problems after the death of a dictator.
“When you take the top off a pressure cooker, the demons fly out. We saw that in the former Yugoslavia, and are we are starting to see it in the Arab world. The business community can come into its own now.
Here is a country with huge opportunities, and a population hungry to become mainstream. Yugoslavia took a number of years to come from the killing fields of Bosnia, to where it is now. “ Lord Robertson ended by quoting from an unlikely source.
“Charlie Chaplin once said: ‘I have a great interest in the future, because that’s where I intend to spend the rest of my life’. Iraq has a great future and we need to be part of it.” Carl Bruce, the senior manager of UKTI’s Middle East team, also highlighted Iraq’s enormous potential. He said the country possessed the world’s 4th largest oil reserves and the 10th largest gas reserves.
He said the French, Germans and Italians were already doing better than the UK in Iraq and British firms were “behind the curve” simply because they were not there in sufficient numbers to take up the opportunities. However, Mr Bruce added: “Iraqis want British business there.
We have a long history of business. According to a DNA study, most Britons are descendants of Iraqi farmers from 10,000 years ago, so it’s a bit like going home!” Rasmi Al Jabri, Chairman of the Basra Engineering Group highlighted the abundance of cheap raw materials in Iraq. He said all those in Basra were looking forward to cooperating with the British companies on trade.