The financial fallout from most of the world was not good during the month of September, but the Iraqi economy appears to be waking up from a war-induced slumber.
The bottom line: Iraq is open for business. According to the Iraqi American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IACCI), Iraq is sitting on the second largest oil reserve in the world and is on the verge of becoming one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says Iraq’s economic outlook has improved “thanks to better security, higher oil output and more exports,” according to a BBC News report on Sept. 4.
And, oil is not the only thing pumping energy into the Iraqi business world. In a recent interview with BusinessIntelligence Middle East (BI-ME), Maurey Blake Bond, business development director for the IACCI, said that Pepsico recently signed a deal with Baghdad Soft Drinks Co., which will produce and distribute Pepsi, Seven-Up and Mirinda soft drink brands while generating 2,000 new jobs over the next few years.
Mercedes has also signed an agreement with the Iraqi government to establish a training center and to study renewing production of trucks and buses. Additionally, there are 20 international flights arriving daily in Baghdad, and the airport zone now offers huge areas of secure development land and nearby logistics.
“Reconstruction in Iraq is now about Iraqi reconstruction,” Bond told BI-ME. “Iraq is in a situation where they have leverage. They don’t have to go traveling around the world to peddle their oil and gas business. For the government of Iraq, there is nowhere else to go, only up.”
On Sept. 11, Iraq rejected the no-bid contracts that it had been negotiating with several Western oil companies, including Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, France’s Total and British Petroleum, because of frustration over the length of those talks.
However, Assem Jihad, a spokesman for the nation’s oil industry, told the Washington Post that Iraq is looking forward to working with those companies, and others, in future. “We don’t have a negative attitude toward any company,” Jihad told the Post.
Sure enough, Iraq had already signed a $4 billion natural gas contract with Royal Dutch Shell, making use of the gas that is burned off during oil production in the southern part of the nation. Also, the China National Petroleum Corporation, or CNPC, is in negotiations with Iraq for a $3 billion oil deal.
While billion-dollar deals continue to make headlines, there are many smaller success stories happening in Iraq. One such deal is the Iraq Business and Industrial Zone (I-BIZ) program. According to Bond, the goal of the I-BIZ is to give Iraqi companies better access to United States’ contracts by providing secure locations close to military bases for small- and medium-sized businesses owned and run by Iraqis. It also aims to train Iraqis in the construction trades of carpentry, plumbing and electrical work.
Bond told BI-ME that I-BIZ-affiliated ventures employ more than 1,400 Iraqis whose salaries total more than $10 million. The program is expected to be implemented on 14 coalition bases before the end of the year.
The IMF, in its first review of Iraq, said an increased budget this year would help speed economic reconstruction after several years of under-investment. According to BBC News, the IMF reported that “after several very difficult years, Iraq has a good chance to rebuild its institutions and infrastructure to attain higher economic growth.”
In his interview with BI-ME, Bond insisted Iraq is on the verge of something fantastic – but it will need partners to come to the dance rather than continuing to sit out.
“The world needs to engage and now is the time for the oil companies to engage,” Bond said. “On the security considerations, there are still issues but there have been big improvements in 2008 so that Iraq is at the point where such major changes are possible.”