|Conference stresses ‘Amman, the gateway to Baghdad’
|Amman is witnessing a flurry of economic activities by local and foreign bodies intent on grasping the opportunities that the end of the war in Iraq has created.
Last week, the concept "Amman, the gateway to Baghdad" was highlighted as delegates from USA, Australia, India, China, Japan, EU and the Arab countries flocked here to participate in the one-day conference "Doing Business with Iraq."
The conference recommended that the Jordanian private sector should make long strides for it to gain a fair share in the reconstruction of Iraq.
Participating businessmen and investors, however, argued that the rampant lack of law and order inside Iraq would be the main obstacle that will hinder the development of that country.
The conference was a joint venture between four of Jordan’s major business associations—the Amman Chamber of Industry, the Information Technology Association of Jordan, the American Chamber of Commerce in Jordan (JABA) and Jordan Exporters Association. It helped to expose the potential that Jordanian businesses would have in Iraq in view of the reconstruction process, which was already launched by the US administration in May.
American experts estimate the reconstruction of Iraq would take at least 10 years and cost over $150 billion. But the absence of local legal system in Iraq will eventually hinder the flow of businesses there and slow down the reconstruction process there.
However, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is currently gearing up Iraq’s reconstruction process by giving priority to American firms. The USAID granted Bechtel, the major American construction firm, a $680 million deal to reconstruct Iraq’s infrastructure.
"It is in everyone’s interest that Arab firms play a crucial role," said Nofal Barbar, regional manager of the Arab Bank. "These companies are familiar with the people, the politics and the culture. They can help any newcomer avoid pitfalls." Nofal believes that Jordan has a major potential interest in Iraq since the two countries have enjoyed close trading and economic relations over the past decades.
Over 4500 regional and international firms have registered with Bechtel as subcontractors and 10 reconstruction projects are already underway in Iraq worth $2.5 billion. So far 15 international companies have been awarded contracts by the USAID.
Among the firms subcontracted by Bechtel are two Saudi companies specialized in the fields of housing and catering. The value of these contracts is unknown; since the two Saudi companies have won the contracts through the US-Saudi Business Council, which met in Riyadh recently.
No Arab engineering or consulting firms have been given any role as yet in Iraq. But the Americans aim to give priority to the Iraqi private sector.
As to Jordan’s chances in the reconstruction of Iraq emanating from traditionally close trade and business relations, Salah Eddin Al Bashir, Jordanian Minister of Trade and Industry, maintained the private sector is dynamic enough to compete with its international counterparts. He said the majority of local businesses in Jordan utilize technology and know-how to work on the international level.
"Jordanian companies know the Iraqi market very well," stressed Al Bashir in his address to the conference. "The partnership between the private and public sectors needs to be enhanced to reach a common vision about the future of trade between Jordan and Iraq."
Business patrons in the US emphasized that mechanisms for Jordanian and Arab companies to get into the Iraqi market and work there depends largely on their readiness to work under their American counterparts.
Mazen Darwazeh, chairman of the Hikma Pharmaceuticals Co, urged the private sector to take the initiative by acting more aggressively and going to Iraq in order to examine the needs and argue their bids there and then. "We can’t sit and wait until the Americans give us the way. We must work by ourselves and run after our interests in the country that once was our major trade partner," Darwazeh pointed out.