British trade delegation undeterred by war

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In 2006, Thomas and his colleague Lord Clement Jones, a managing partner at DLA Piper law firm and a senior member of the House of Lords, led the first trade delegation to Kurdistan since the fall of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.


ERBIL, Kurdistan Region -- A British trade delegation visited Erbil this week, apparently unbothered by the fact their initial flight was cancelled six weeks ago due to ISIS violence in the region.

“None of us are concerned by the current situation,” Michael Thomas, leader of the Pathfinder Middle East Trade Mission, told Rudaw. 

“We are sure that the Kurdistan government is able to overcome all the obstacles – which are pretty serious,” he added.

With the Kurdistan region's economy on hiatus, Thomas said there was an opportunity for Kurdistan to consolidate its development and re-evaluate economic strategy.

“It's not a bad thing to stop and think and consolidate,” he said.

After a prolonged period of growth and development in the region, economic growth contracted five percent in 2014, according to a February World Bank report. 

Lack of funds from Baghdad, the cost of the war against ISIS, and supporting over 1.5 million displaced people, have had a negative impact on the economy, with thousands of development projects coming to a halt.

“However, we're looking well beyond this war,” Thomas said.

Thomas believes the key to a stable independent Kurdish economy, and eventual state, is developing transportation. 

“If you get transport sorted, you get freedom,” Thomas said. “All efficient economies need good transport links.” 

He said this was particularly true for the landlocked Kurdistan region.“It's obvious that Kurdistan's location is tremendously important as a trade hub in the region,” he said. 

“If you got a first-class road and rail route out through Turkey to Europe that could really change everything, including the dynamics of trade.”

British companies would like help develop this transportation, Thomas said, including one of the companies on the delegation. 

The six British companies that visited are specialized in fields ranging from financing, development and procurement, to training and education.

The delegation was a UK private sector initiative supported by the Kurdistan Regional Government, which believes that delegations like these play a vital role in strengthening trade and investment relations with the UK. 

Nawal Karim, director of Trade and Investment Relations at the KRG UK Representation, said: “Many delegates on these missions have either won contracts from the KRG directly or formed joint-ventures with Kurdistani companies.”

She said the trade missions have “contributed to raising awareness of Kurdistan as a vibrant destination to do business among the private sector, influenced the opening of a British visa center and increasing UK Trade and Investment representatives in Erbil.”

The current delegation also reached an agreement with the Erbil Chamber of Commerce to stage a business conference in the KRG capital.