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British businesses can help Iraq prosper

Iraq's future success will be built on the hard work of its people and the knowledge and expertise they can call on, writes Peter Mandelson. 

Peter Mandelson
Last Updated: 6:00PM BST 30 Apr 2009

Today, the world watched as British troops marked the end of their formal combat operations in Iraq. But just under 3,000 miles away in London, another event was taking place that reflected the new relationship now emerging between our countries.

At "Invest Iraq", representatives of more than 100 firms, with skills ranging from transport, power and construction to healthcare, security and financial services, discussed the potential for trade with and investment in Iraq. Accompanied by senior ministers and officials, Iraq's prime minister and deputy prime minister reiterated the importance of our relationship, and the opportunities for British businesses across all sectors.

Earlier this month, I saw something of the transformation in Iraq when I visited the country, along with the largest government-led British trade delegation for more than 20 years. What I found was a great realism and determination to drive investment and business forward as a foundation of future strength.

With British forces completing military operations later this year, our priority now is to continue helping the Iraqi government, at provincial and national levels, to create a stable, growing economy – and thereby deliver greater security, better public services and increased prosperity.

The Iraqi people I met spoke with cautious optimism about the future – but their belief in the potential of their country was clear. Iraq is at the centre of a regional market of more than 200 million people. It has the third-largest reserves of oil in the world, fertile agricultural land, a relatively skilled and educated workforce, and an expanding population and labour market. With oil revenues totalling more than $60 billion, it also has the potential resources to fund its own development and emerge as an economic leader in the Middle East.

To help achieve these goals, the Iraqi people will look to companies they trust – and already, British officials and businesses are helping to reconstruct vital infrastructure, deliver essential services, boost skills and capacity and support humanitarian efforts. Despite the tough global conditions, British exports of goods to Iraq increased by 17 per cent last year, to £156 million, and work led by the Department for International Development has already resulted in investment proposals from business worth up to $10 billion.

In February this year, Foster Wheeler Energy won a contract to provide engineering support for new offshore oil export facilities. Maritime & Underwater Security Consultants have secured an estimated $200 million contract to survey the seabed and provide pipeline services between refineries, ports and offshore loading points for oil tankers in Basra. And B-Plan Information Systems is rolling out a new software system at 150 branches of the Rafidain Bank, which will give 4.5 million people access to modern banking for the first time.

Alongside the Iraqi authorities, we're committed to building on these and other opportunities. Yesterday, we signed a new Memorandum of Understanding on Economic Co-operation, to establish annual trade and economic talks between the UK and Iraq and set out priorities for engagement.

Our governments are also working together to build skills and capacity in Iraq's energy sector, while UK Trade & Investment, the government organisation that helps British business grow internationally, is expanding its presence.

Iraq's future success will be built on the hard work of its people and the knowledge and expertise they can call on to drive growth in the decades ahead. Britain has always been committed to achieving stability in Iraq. We stand ready now, as a committed partner in trade, to do everything we can to help the Iraqi people fulfil their ambitions for the future.

• Lord Mandelson is Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

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