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Iraqi businessmen hope to woo investors in Switzerland, Austria

Commerce chamber will invite companies to explore opportunities

A team of Iraqi businessmen is visiting Switzerland and Austria to encourage companies such as Nestle to invest in Iraq, insisting that the violence there will stop after elections at the end of January.

The private sector will play the most important role in Iraq's long-term economic development so the potential benefits for foreign investors are huge, said members of the 20-strong contingent from the Baghdad Chamber of Commerce.

"We want to talk to the outside world, we want to liaise with the outside world, we want to show the outside world that Iraqi businessmen are united ... and we are ready for joint ventures," said Mohammad Hassan al-Kazzaz, president of the commerce chamber.

"We have spoken to companies [in Switzerland] and they will visit Iraq," he told reporters in Geneva on Friday, the first day of a three-to-four-day tour.

Ten members of the Baghdad Chamber of Commerce have traveled to Switzerland to meet representatives from a range of companies including Swiss food giant Nestle, the biotechnology company Serono and Ciba Speciality Chemicals.

They would be joined by another 10 colleagues in Vienna where they were due Saturday to meet members of the Austrian commerce chamber, they said.

"The main goal of the visit to Switzerland and later to Austria and maybe in the future to other countries is to create awareness that the Iraqi private sector needs a sort of boost," said Thabit al-Baldawi, a member of the Iraqi chamber's foreign relations committee.

Iraq's private business community is "going to play the most important role in the economic development of the country and therefore it needs financial assistance from the outside world so that foreign investment and Arab investment can come to Iraq through Iraqi entrepreneurs," he said.

Formal invitations would be issued to companies to visit to Iraq and see for themselves the business opportunities available, said Kazzaz, dismissing fears about a vicious insurgency that has raged since last year's U.S.-led war.

The violence has prompted many foreign firms to flee the country and discouraged a lot of potential investors, but the Iraqi businessmen were confident that things would change after the elections planned for Jan. 30.

Swiss companies "will visit Baghdad but after the elections and when things really calm down," Kazzaz predicted.

"We believe that in two months' time ... security must prevail in Iraq." Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraq's economy has finally opened up to the world, enabling Iraqi assets to flow freely, the commerce chief said.

Equally, trade barriers have been brought down to attract foreign interest.

Beirut,12 06 2004
Redaction
The Daily Star
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