Steve Lutes, Vice President of the Middle East Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on the Chamber’s activities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), and the most promising sectors to US businesses in the KRI.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce signed an MoU with the Kurdistan Federation of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KFCCI) in June 2019. Can you elaborate on some of the points regarding your collaboration with the KFCCI?
The U.S. Chamber welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with fellow chamber organizations, such as the Kurdistan Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KFCCI). The essence of the MoU is to provide a bridge between the private sectors in the United States and the KRI. We are actually extending an invitation to the KFCCI to bring a delegation of business leaders to the United States to explore opportunities to trade and do business here. Likewise, we look forward to organizing and leading a delegation of American companies to return to Erbil and Northern Iraq at some point in 2020. Beyond such delegations and exchange of information, it is incumbent upon our organizations to work together to remove regulatory burdens and issues as they arise which create barriers to expanded trade and investment relationships.
We applaud efforts to enhance the business environment and diversify the economy, and the bottom line from my perspective is that there is an opportunity for American businesses from A to Z of the economy.Steve Lutes, Vice President, Middle East Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Which of the KRI’s sectors offer the most potential to US businesses?
There are a number of sectors in which American businesses are well equipped to help fulfill the needs and economic diversification goals of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq by bringing their innovation, knowledge and technologies to contribute to the economy. In diverse areas spanning across health and digital opportunities to agriculture and infrastructure projects, American companies ranging from small budding entrepreneurs to large global leaders can make a difference in the KRI. I believe they will find that they are pushing on an open door when they come and explore these commercial and investment opportunities. We also cannot forget the important role the energy sector plays and the corresponding opportunities to develop and commercialize these resources. We applaud efforts to enhance the business environment and diversify the economy, and the bottom line from my perspective is that there is an opportunity for American businesses from A to Z of the economy. When we fail to engage in those opportunities, then our competitors will fill the void.
We are working to officially establish an AmCham in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. This would be an accredited, locally-based affiliate that would be on the front lines working to grow and deepen commercial ties.
How can the U.S. Chamber of Commerce help companies looking to work in the KRI to take advantage of the opportunities here?
There is a lot we are doing already, but we can always do more. First and foremost, you have to show up, and we have done this by bringing delegations of businessmen and women to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to meet with decision-makers in government and local business executives. There is nothing better than seeing things first-hand and meeting with people on the ground to really understand the situation and opportunities. We have also made a point to support key events which showcase commercial and investment opportunities in Northern Iraq. For example, in November 2019, we were a supporting organization of the Ninewa Investment Forum and worked closely with the U.S. government to encourage American businesses and investors to participate. We also host a number of events in Washington, DC to help educate U.S. companies about opportunities to do business and invest in the KRI. We are also working to officially establish an AmCham in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. This would be an accredited, locally-based affiliate that would be on the front lines working to grow and deepen commercial ties.
From a safety standpoint, how would you define the security and safety in the KRI?
I am certainly not a security expert, and will always defer to those who are. Having said this, I have been traveling to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq for many years and continue to do so and have never had any issues.