Perhaps the best example of this relationship is Emaar Properties announcement in October 2013 to launch its $3 billion “Downtown Erbil” development project.
With 541,000 square meters of residential and commercial space, world-class hotels, the city’s largest shopping mall, educational and healthcare centers and parks, Downtown Erbil’s hopes to be an essential business hub not only for the city, but the entire region. Emaar chairman Mohamed Alabbar praised the initiative, stating that it would “promote the local economy, bring in investment and create hundreds of jobs” and that the company hopes to close similar deals in the future.
Keeping with Emaar’s tradition to create breathtaking skylines, Downtown Erbil will feature two twin towers hosting residential apartments – intended to be prominent, but still preserving the city’s architectural heritage.
And although Downtown Erbil will not directly benefit local property companies in the area, the project will be a significant source of income for many residents. The Emirati property giant estimates up to 45,000 jobs will be created as a result of the endeavor. The project received the attention of KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, who stated, “Emaar is one of the best developers in the world and the fact it has selected Kurdistan as an area to build in shows the economy is growing strong here.”
Downtown Erbil is just one of many projects being facilitated by Dubai and Kurdistan, whose mutual economic interests have fostered a significant partnership with greater bilateral benefits. In January 2014, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) opened its third international office in the city of Erbil. The goal of the new office is to encourage business and investment in Kurdistan, the second largest destination for Dubai Chamber members’ exports and re-exports in the first half of this year (following Saudi Arabia). According to DCCI president and CEO Hamad Buamim, “Iraq as a whole, given its rebuilding efforts, has significant potential for Dubai businesses to increase trade and investment and the stability of the Kurdistan Region offers a suitable base.”
Largely due to a rise in non-oil trade between Dubai and Iraq, Iraq has risen from 14th on the list of Dubai’s top trading partners in 2008 to 7th in 2011. As of 2012, non-oil trade between the two stood at a total of $8 billion.
Dubai may be spearheading the endeavor, but the entire UAE is looking to expand upon the existing 134 Emirati companies currently operating in Erbil. And despite some voices of concern regarding the Iraqi economy, Buamim frequently stresses that the DCCI thoroughly analyzes all potential markets, studying the investment potential and opportunities available for UAE investors and the Emirati companies' capabilities in extracting good returns from their investments.
The DCCI’s report on investment in Iraq clearly views Kurdistan as a gateway to larger investment, as the Region provides “stability, improving infrastructure and logistics, a positive attitude to FDI and strong trade links with Turkey, while opportunities are being driven through the huge demand across all sectors, stable gateway to the larger Iraq market, Free Trade Zones and new focus on tourism and agriculture.” This is in no small part due to the privileges that the KRG offers to foreign investors, including the allotment of land at competitive prices, tax exemption and equal opportunities for local and foreign investors alike.
A number of major UAE companies are active in different sectors of the Kurdistan economy, including Dana Gas, Rotana, Majid Al Futtaim, and Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (Taqa).