“Indian businessmen should see Iraq themselves”
Iraq is the biggest consumer market in the Gulf region. India had a burgeoning trade going on with Iraq till 2002. This trade got affected when political condition changed in Iraq. Afraid and having security concerns, the Indian businessmen shunned the Iraqi market. It is now that the Indian business delegations have started going to Iraq and started participating in trade shows there. Mr. Khaldoon Tareq Yaseen, the Commercial Counselor of the Embassy of the Republic of Iraq in New Delhi knows truly that unless interaction happens between Indian and Iraqi businessmen, the bilateral trade will not pick up. B2B meetings and face-to-face interactions are important for instilling confidence on both sides. Mr. Khaldoon, therefore, is working to reinitiate and rejuvenate business visits on both sides. Spearheading the commercial section in a dynamic manner, he is providing all possible help to Indians willing to trade with Iraqi companies. TPCI’s Media and Communication Department interviewed Mr. Khaldoon Tareq Yaseen and sought his views on various related issues. Present here are the excerpts from the interview
Q: Give your views on the Indo-Iraq relations prior to 2002?
Mr. Khaldoon Tareq Yaseen: Iraqi-Indian relations have traditionally been friendly and collaborative. Both the countries signed treaty of friendship in 1952, and another agreement on economic, scientific, technical and cultural cooperation was signed in 2000. On the whole, ties between the two countries have remained strong and nothing can adversely impact these relations.
Q: How can our trade relations go back to the level of 2002 or stronger?
Mr. Khaldoon Tareq Yaseen: The Iraq-India economic relations were hit because of war against terrorism which was meant to destroy our country and due to this, most Indian companies were afraid to enter Iraqi market, either from point of view of sale or investment. It is now clear that the battle has been won and peace has returned to Iraq. Several Indian companies are now eager to enter the thriving Iraqi market. Iraq is a big and growing market. When we talk about Iraqi market, we talk about more than 34 million consumers whose per capita income is growing by the day as the Iraqi economy grows. Iraqi market is the biggest in the region, more than 330 billion USDs and bigger than all neighbouring countries including Israel, Turkey and Lebanon. If we look at the trade exchange statistics between Iraq and India, we find that the total trade exchange exceeded 19 billion dollars in 2017-18 and Iraq is ranked 10th in the list of India’s trading partners.
Ever since I have been here since July 2017, it has been my honour to witness a lot many of these companies changing their mind and getting interested in tapping the business opportunities in Iraq. 46 big Indian companies visited Iraq for Baghdad International Fair in November 2018. This was a major event after 2003. Recently, TPCI took the first delegation of Indian businessmen aimed at generating confidence and enhancing business opportunities. The delegation met the Minister for Trade and Industry and got an opportunity to interact with various business chambers and key business persons.
Q: What now?
Mr. Khaldoon Tareq Yaseen: I can say confidently that Iraqi relations with India will be ideal model of cooperation for all countries all over the world, especially with assistance of our friends TPCI, whom I prefer to deal with. As you know, Iraq now has a new Government and after defeating ISIS, our new Government is very keen to open all the doors to all foreign investors, especially Indian investors. We have good impression about the Indian businessmen and investors from the previous projects done by them in Iraq in various sectors like railway, power stations, electricity, computer systems, IT, roads, constructions, water, sewage and more.
Q: What is the present status of bilateral trade and what are the areas where trade is mainly taking place?
Mr. Khaldoon Tareq Yaseen: As mentioned, the total of trading exchange between India and Iraq exceeds US$19 billion. Main product of trade from Iraq is petrol. Iraq has now exceeded Saudi Arabia in supplying petrol to India. At the same time, Iraq is importing a lot of Indian goods especially food stuff like buffalo meat, rice, beans, sugar and also items such as steel, pipelines, electrical items, motors, rickshaws, cycles, construction materials such as tiles, granites, sanitary wares, etc. TPCI has done a lot in enhancing bilateral relations between sellers and buyers of food stuff by inviting more than 30 Iraqi businessmen from Iraq to Indusfood 2018, which was held in Greater Noida in January 2018. We are also expecting a high ranked official delegation from Ministry of Trade in Iraq to participate in Indusfood 2019 to get advantage of this opportunity and to hold in-depth discussions with the Indian side in order to increase the volume of trade exchange between Iraq and India.
Q: How and in which area do you see future focus of trade between India and Iraq?
Mr. Khaldoon Tareq Yaseen: When we are talking about Iraqi market, we are referring to promising opportunity in all fields because Iraq now depends on imports to satisfy the majority of local demand but on the other hand Iraq is well-known as a virgin land as a result of long period in the past during which foreign investment was considered as a second type of imperialism. We are aware of the fact that Iraq is full of natural and human resources and have huge number of trained engineers and technical staff available in the Middle East. So focusing on only sale for the Iraqi market is not the best choice, but the best choice for them is to set up production units that aim to maximize value-added products. The completion in Iraq is low and the challenges presently are not big. According to my opinion and according to the opinion of experts on Iraqi economy, Iraq is most suited to establish these production units. ‘Make in Iraq’ is a slogan that will catch up in near future. I am advising all my friends in India to go and share their technical knowledge and equity capital with Iraqi partners to set up promising projects in Iraq.
Q: How do you view TPCI’s recent efforts to promote trade between India and Iraq?
Mr. Khaldoon Tareq Yaseen: TPCI took a delegation of Indian businessmen to Iraq, which also met the Minister of Trade besides other senior Government officials. The delegation also met representatives from trade bodies and leading businessmen in four cities viz. Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf and Erbil. This was definitely a good step meant to enhance bilateral relations between the two countries.
As a commercial counselor of Iraq in India, I have noticed no Iraqi delegation came to India and no Indian delegation went to Iraq. How can you do business in such scenario? We should bring and receive more delegations, hold B2B meetings, participate in exhibitions, etc. Only in such a scenario, mutual trust will be built. There are many problems that need to be sorted out. Iraqi importers need more confidence as some Indian businessmen failed to live up to expectations in terms of quality of export produce. With more meetings and discussions, I am sure they will be table to talk about their relations and how business can be improved.
As I have been informed, TPCI will be taking many more delegations to Iraq in near future. Delegations are planned for healthcare sector and for construction. Lot of construction activities are taking place and we look forward to Indian companies contributing in development of Iraqi infrastructure. I am here to do my best to work for enhanced relations between Iraqi importers and Indian exporters.