By Mariwan Faydullah Salihi & Aiyob Mawloodi
Depending on the level of trade and investment between the United Arab Emirates and Kurdistan Region, senior officials there seek to open their consul branch in Erbil "as soon as possible."
Kurdistan Region hosted a mutual trade conference between the Regional trade chamber and the United Arab Emirates trade delegation in Erbil on Wednesday, May 19, at Erbil's Convention Center. The conference was attended by Kurdistan Regional Prime Minister Dr. Barham Salih and United Arab Emirates Foreign Trade Minister Sheikha Lubna Khalid Al Qassimi.
"The purpose behind this visit is to open the gate of investment and cooperation toward economic and industrial development in Kurdistan Region, and to participate in a trade conference," Shiekha Lubna explained to the reporters in a joint press conference with KRG Minister of Trade Sinan Chalabi in the KRG Council of Ministers upon her arrival in Erbil on Tuesday, May 18. "Our delegation is comprised of representatives from government institutions, private sector, and free trade zones, all of who agree to continue opening the gate to more investment and cooperation with their brothers in Kurdistan Region."
Minister Chalabi reiterated his belief that the visit and the mutual conference would establish a wider horizon of cooperation between Kurdistan and the United Arab Emirates. "This is the first time that such a high-level delegation visits our Region?and we will try to expand such relations, particularly within the private sector of both sides," Chalabi said in Tuesday's joint press conference.
The visit came as a result of an earlier visit by Prime Minister Salih to the United Arab Emirates in February, and the purpose, as Sheikha Lubna said, is the continuation of negotiations started there in February.
Companies from the United Arab Emirates are mainly working to develop the oil sector in Kurdistan Region. Regarding the current relations and existing activities of United Arab Emirates companies in the Region, Sheikha Lubna said that strong encouragement came from them; they mostly work in the oil and hotel sectors, and she reiterated that the main objective of her accompanied delegation is to expand their presence.
Speaking earlier to media channels, Kurdistan Foreign Relations Chief Falah Mustafa stated that «the U.A.E. senior officials have decided to open their consul branch in Erbil as soon as possible.»
During the first day of the visit, the delegation met with both Kurdistan Region's President Massoud Barzani and Prime Minister Salih, who mainly focused on economic and trade relations and encouraged United Arab EMirates businessmen to invest in Kurdistan, according to Sheikha Lubna.
"We intend to open our consulate general in the region, but this mainly depends on the level of trade and investment between the two parties in Erbil," stated the head of the delegation as she spoke at the conference."
Trade exchange between Iraq and U.A.E. was above US$5 billion in 2009 constituting 2.8 percent of total United Arab Emirates foreign trade, compared to $3 billion in 2008--a dramatic increase of 63 percent despite the global economical recession. Thus Iraq is the world's 11th largest trade partner of the U.A.E., and is the second largest among the Arab countries. This level of trade is growing every year.
Prime Minister Salih also spoke at the conference. He explained that during the Baathist rule in the country, Kurdistan--as well as all other parts of the country--was prevented from using its lands to help establish an economy with its use. He said that though all Iraqis have suffered from the brutality of the previous regime, the sufferings of the Kurds have been more than that of the rest.
Prime Minister Saleh told United Arab Emirates investors that his region is an excellent opportunity for them. According to Saleh, Kurdistan Region has a per capita income of more than US$4,500--more than 30 percent higher than the rest of Iraq--meaning the region has an important consumer market. «Kurdistan is open and welcomes you,» he said to the delegation while concluding his speech.
Sheikha Lubna explained that the scope of their relations with Kurdistan has not been up to expectations, and that her delegation, consisting of CEOs and managers of United Arab Emirates companies from all sectors such as trade, investment, finance, and others, emphasized growing mutual cooperation.
"After the fall of that regime, a brighter horizon came into being in Kurdistan Region, and we resumed reconstruction and decided to stay within a democratic, plural, federal Iraq," said Salih, addressing conference participants. "The stability in the Kurdistan Region has an impact on the stability of Iraq in the same way the stability in Iraq has impact on the stability of the Region."
Many Emirati investors and businessmen hailed Kurdistan Region>s security and booming economy. «Kurdistan is very impressive,» noted Abdullah Belhoul, managing director of Dubai Industrial City (a Dubai Holding company). «The state-of-the art facilities, including the new Erbil International Airport, conference facilities, and the rest of the infrastructure are very encouraging,» Belhoul told The Kurdish Globe.
Erbil Governor Nawzad Hadi explained the role and importance of foreign investment in the Region, and said that investment continues in parallel to government projects. He also explained how the United Arab Emirates can help in that direction.
"U.A.E. has wide experience in the region. Hence, the financial capital of U.A.E. investors in Kurdistan will have a positive impact since large amounts of capital are flown into the region and being invested--something that benefits Kurdistan."
Governor Hadi added that the United Arab Emirates companies intend to work in the fields of oil and gas, tourism, and agriculture.
Kurdistan Region has been known to try to imitate the economic model of the United Arab Emirates, something that has helped to vastly improve relations between the investors and businessmen of both sides.
Erbil, Kurdistan's capital, is said to have become the "second Dubai." Even governorate officials once vowed to develop Erbil into a Dubai, and this notion is witnessed via developments and construction in the region, as it resembles those in those of Dubai--but at a lower level.
Some experts believe that it is possible for the Region to develop an economy much like that of the United Arab Emirates due to some resemblance between the two economies, except for a major difference, which is the landlocked Kurdistan in comparison to the location of the United Arab Emirates on the Persian Gulf.
Among the major activities and investments of United Arab Emirates businesses in Kurdistan is the natural gas investment project by DanaGas and Crescent Petroleum in the Chamchamal area, which is set to have a huge production capacity that can meet the natural gas needs of the region both for heating and electricity production as well as exportation.
Negotiations started last year between the two companies and the Nabucco project developers to export part of Kurdistan's gas production to Europe via the Nabucco pipelines.