Mayor heads to Kurdistan Region in bid to boost trade links

22 January 2015

The Mayor of London is in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq today (22 January), at the invitation of the Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, where he is promoting trade links with the UK and London in an area that has become a success story for the Middle East.

While Iraq has had long established trade links with the UK, in recent years it is in those areas which have seen greater stability – including Kurdistan Region – that commercial opportunities and infrastructure development are thriving. There is already intense competition to win new contracts and the Mayor will meet with the Prime Minister, as well as local business leaders and representatives of British businesses, in a bid to encourage new deals with London as the home of the greatest commercial, business and financial services in the world.

The Mayor’s short trip to the region has been welcomed by the UK Government and is an important opportunity to further strengthen Great Britain’s rapidly flourishing relationship with the Kurdistan Region. While in the region the Mayor will be accompanied by the British Consul General to Kurdistan Region, Angus McKee, and Nadhim Zahawi, the MP for Stratford on Avon and member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee who was born to Kurdish parents in Iraq and retains close links with the region.

This morning the Mayor met British military personnel who are training the local Kurdish Peshmerga forces, as part of the UK’s security assistance in Iraq, and heard their first-hand accounts of the work that is taking place to combat the threat posed by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). With direct responsibility for the strategic direction and oversight of the Metropolitan Police the Mayor was keen to learn their experiences of helping fight terrorism that impacts on the safety and security of Londoners.

The Mayor also headed to Erbil International Airport for a meeting with the Airport Director and an opportunity to view the work of a number of UK companies on the airport, which has included design of the terminal by Scott Wilson plc as well as technical services provided by leading British companies. The airport is of great importance to Kurdistan Region as before 2003 travel to the area was only possible by land. In 2014 the airport handled 1.5m passengers and the Mayor was briefed on the airport management’s desire to secure the first ever direct flights to London from the airport, which would provide a significant boost to trade between the UK and Kurdistan Region.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “Over the last decade Kurdistan Region has seen considerable economic growth and social development, and I’m here to mark London’s role as an active ally in this. We have a mutual interest in not only Kurdistan Region’s security and prosperity but that of Iraq as a whole. The links between Britain and the Kurdistan Region are developing at an incredible pace, there is a dynamic and forward looking leadership here and I am looking forward to rolling up our sleeves and discussing greater cooperation on a range of issues.”

While in the Kurdistan region the Mayor’s team will look to strengthen relationships with leading business people and raise the profile of UK companies across a number of sectors including infrastructure and financial and professional services. Iraq’s close ties to the UK means that British businesses should be in pole position to capture the opportunities available to help with the development of the Kurdistan region. And with nearly 21,000 people of Kurdish origin living in the capital, London itself is well placed to make the most of those opportunities.

Between 2009 and 2014, the number of registered British companies in Kurdistan has increased from three to over 120 with all now active across a number of key sectors including Genel and Gulf Keystone who remain at the forefront of the energy sector. Standard Chartered and Eversheds recently opened branches offering professional services in Erbil and an independent British Business Group was founded last year that looks to promote British goods and services as well as British-owned companies operating in the region. They aim to be the key contact for British firms and individuals who are looking at Kurdistan as a potential market.