Emirati - Iraqi Businessmen Forum launched in northern Iraq.
UAE Minister of Foreign Trade Sheikha Lubna Al-Qassimi has underlined the UAE's interest in furthering relations with Iraqi Kurdistan region.
"The strong brotherly ties between the United Arab Emirates and the Republic of Iraq have witnessed positive activities during the past few months", Sheikha Lubna said in a speech before the Emirati - Iraqi Businessmen Forum here in Erbil in presence of Prime Minister of Kurdistan Region Barham Saleh and a large number of representatives of UAE and Kurdistani businesses and agencies.
Both Emirati and Iraqi leaderships have fully endorsed these activities in order to achieve better levels of integration and develop stronger commercial and economic ties between our two countries as they come at a time when, according to Sheikha Lubna, "there is an abundance in available opportunities and a suitable cooperation climate to pursue them on the one hand, and regional and global economic changes that compel us to strengthen the foundations of our bilateral and Arab economic integration on the other." The current visit to the Iraqi Kurdistan region, and the preceding high profile visits carried out by Emirati officials to Iraq, reflect our countries' interest in what is happening in this Arab country which has a special place in the hearts of the Emirati people, and also reflect our support for its stability and the promotion of reform and development therein." It is very important, she stressed, "to continue with these reforms and to keep them up-to-date with the latest economic developments in order to attract the business community and encourage it to invest more, and to develop joint cooperation." Sunday's forum provided an opportunity for Sheikha Lubna to express "appreciation and admiration for the pace of economic reform and the opening up of Iraq in general, and the Kurdistan region in particular, despite the adversities and challenges they are faced." Sheikha Lubna further expressed the "UAE's great ambitions to improve our bilateral relations are great, equally so is our confidence in the ability to achieve our mutual goals and desires." The Kurdistan region "gives priority to UAE companies as a result of their outstanding performance, professionalism, and global competitiveness and their interest in developing the areas they invest in." The forum represents a continuation of the successful visit by Prime Minister Barham Saleh to the UAE last February and also a continuation of the negotiations and discussions that were carried out between the business communities of both countries on the sidelines of that visit, which we hope will transcend today into actual projects that would strengthen cooperation between our two countries,''Sheikha Lubna indicated.
Despite what Sheikha Lubna described as a noticeable slowdown in international trade as a result of the global financial crisis, she said non-oil bilateral trade between our two countries increased by 63%, rising from USD 3.79 billion in 2008 to USD 5.19 billion in 2009, making Iraq the 11th global trade partner of the UAE, and the second Arab trade partner.
As the UAE exports to the Iraqi market rose in 2009 by 41% in comparison with 2008 reaching USD 4.241 billion, Iraq's exports to the UAE market grew by 952% reaching USD 778 million, according to Sheikha Lubna.
These very positive indicators regarding UAE-Iraq bilateral trade are "the fruit of our countries' joint efforts to raise our trade levels and expand the areas of economic cooperation in a way that matches the aspirations of our leaderships and supports the comprehensive development plans between our two brotherly countries." Sheikha Lubna used this opportunity to briefly share with the forum the latest economic developments in the UAE which has succeeded last year in underlining the strength of its economy through achieving a positive growth rate of 1.3%, at a time when most of the world's economies witnessed a slowdown.
"Tested and tried, our economy has demonstrated its dynamism and strong diversity, to the extent that non-oil sectors contributed 66% of the overall GDP in 2009, and we expect our economic growth to grow further by 2.5% this year." In 2009, The UAE's foreign trade sector showed a lot of positive indicators and signs of strength as the country continued to follow a trade policy based on trade openness and achieving balance in an international market that is influenced by 192 countries, 153 of whom are members of the World Trade Organization, according to the UAE minister.
Last year, the UAE's non-oil exports rose by 9.4% despite the global economic crisis and the decline in international trade, while the over-all trade volume of the state decreased by 15.9%, or USD 181 Billion, primarily due to the decline in imports by 20.6% and the global trade decline of 12%, which contributed towards achieving a 31% non-oil trade deficit in the UAE's favour, and in registering an unprecedented economic surplus worth over USD 29 Billion, that is seen as a positive outcome of the crisis that many import rationing policies have not been able to achieve in years, she noted.
For his part, Prime Minister of Kurdistan Region Barham Saleh noted that the forum and the efforts to promote relations with the UAE have received the support of H.H General HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
He added that the forum has served as a platform for boosting the Region's efforts to drive economic development and provide its citizens with dignified life as well as promote security and stability in Iraq and the wider region.
Saleh further urged UAE companies and investors to take advantage of the Region's economic reforms and use the region as a gateway to the rest of Iraq.
Iraq's Kurdistan Region recognizes the importance of building strong relations with Arab countries, including the Gulf, and the UAE in particular.
He expressed appreciation of the UAE's experience in harnessing its resources to build an advanced and prosperous country.
He expressed hopes that the forum would contribute to the promotion of economic and trade relations between Iraq and its Kurdistan Region, on the one hand, and the UAE on the other.
"Our region serves as a bridge into the rest of Iraq as well as to the peoples of regional countries." Saleh said the UAE is invited to provide help and expertise to help the Region's government in its efforts to overcome legal, administrative and bureaucratic hurdles to the economic reforms which could drive household income to US$ 4500.
Efforts are being made by the Region's government to enact foreign ownership legislations and attract more foreign direct investments which are estimated now at US12.5 billion.
Amendments to the current regulations this year would allow 100% foreign ownership of housing developments.
For his part, Sami al-Araji, chairman of Iraq's National Investment, said UAE companies are considering plans to construct 150000 housing units throughout Iraq.
In Kurdistan Region alone, 140000 units, out of a total of one million for all Iraq, are being considered by the Commission, according to Aaraji.
UAE developers and businesses are considering investments worth US$ 70 billion throughout Iraq.
Meanwhile, Sheikha Lubna and Barham Salem held a meeting on the sidelines of the Forum.
Present at the meeting were Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Trade Abdullah Al-Saleh, UAE Ambassador to Iraq Abdullah Al-Shehhi, Secretary General of the UAE Federation of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, or FCCI, Director General of Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, (ADCCI) and other members of the UAE delegation.
In remarks at the meeting, the minister underscored relations between the UAE and Iraq.
She expressed interest in expanding the presence of UAE energy, hotel management, retail, mining, pharmaceutical and construction companies in Kurdistan and other parts of Iraq.
For his part, the Prime Minister of Kurdistan Region said the UAE is opening up to Iraq, noting that it does not have a political agenda in the country.
He expressed appreciation of the support extended by the UAE's top leadership to the relations with Iraq where UAE and Arab investments are given priority.