When I visited Erbil last year, I was immediately struck by the scale of opportunity that exists, and the huge amount of progress taking place as the Kurdistan Region of Iraq continues the path towards modernizing its economy.

With strong growth rates, I hope that these developments, and the relative stability that the region enjoys, can spread to the rest of the country.

The UK will certainly do all it can to support this goal. Our relationship is stronger than ever. We have had a series of Ministerial visits to the Kurdistan Region, which are indicative of our long-term commitment to the Region. Lord Marland, the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy, conducted one such visit in September.

Certainly, if a company wishes to gain a foothold in the Iraqi market, the Kurdistan Region is an obvious gateway. And this ‘gateway role’ is becoming increasingly important since firms have begun to recognize its potential.

Certainly, if a company wishes to gain a foothold in the Iraqi market, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is an obvious gateway. And this gateway role is becoming increasingly important since firms have begun to recognize this potential.

I am pleased to see an increasing number of British businesses realizing the opportunities that the Region can offer, including Standard Chartered, Deloitte, Mott McDonald, Parson Brinckerhoff, Control Risks Group, and the Olive Group, while showing Kurds what we can offer too – expertise, professionalism, and delivery.

This presents major openings for both Kurdish and UK companies to work together in partnership, particularly in areas where Kurdish businesses welcome UK knowledge and expertise, including infrastructure, energy, education, finance, healthcare, and education.

British firms are already doing well, with over 110 British firms active in the Kurdistan market. Land Rover, for example, chose Kurdistan as its base for regional operations. Gulf Keystone is doing very well and aims to become one of the leading producers of hydrocarbons in the region, while Genel Energy has generated great results for the first half of 2013 with its Bina Bawi, Chia Surkh, and Tawke discoveries.

Meanwhile, UK construction and project management firms are delivering major projects in the education, healthcare, housing, transport, and infrastructure sectors. Our architecture and design firms continue to enjoy success, including a role in designing the Erbil and Slemani Airports, while UK legal and financial firms are helping to develop the business services upon which the Kurdish and Iraqi economies will rely. UK education and healthcare companies also aim to make major contributions.

We are very keen to develop and expand these relations in whatever ways possible. Take education, for example. Partly as a result of the large number of Kurdish students attending UK universities through the KRG’s Human Capacity Development Program, we have established thriving educational links. In fact, an increasing number of British universities have formed partnerships with their counterparts here in the Region – we hope that some at least will consider opening their own campuses here. Additionally, the British Council has played a significant role in expanding educational opportunities by providing English language training and examination services for local students.

During Lord Green’s visit to Iraq earlier this year, he gave a commitment to deliver a trade mission to Baghdad, Basra, and Erbil in late 2013. This will be the largest ever UK business mission to Iraq and the Region, to see firsthand the huge potential that exists there.

Meanwhile, UKTI will be bringing 40 Kurdish investors and business people in an inward investment mission to the UK at the end of 2013. We believe that we are entering a new phase in our business relations with the Region, as this will be the first mission of its kind.

While we very much welcome further commercial involvement, in order to win work, UK companies need to be present on the ground in the Region. We are delighted that a number are now planning to open offices here. The recent opening of a branch of the Iraq British Business Council in Erbil will also help boost the UK commercial profile in the region. It is clear from talking to Kurdish leaders that the UK has a well-respected brand. But competition from other nations is intense, and work is needed to encourage more suitable UK exporters to consider the Kurdish market.

We want to make it easier to do business between our countries, which is why Lord Marland formally launched a new visa application center on 24 September, catering to all categories of visitor, so people no longer have to travel to Amman or Baghdad to apply for a UK visa.

We are also building a new and permanent consulate facility in Kurdistan, which should be operational in 2015. British business involvement here in the Region is huge and we are very proud to be playing a role in its continued presence.

But our relationship is, of course, not one-way. The Kurdish community in Britain plays a crucial role in improving UK-Kurdistan business ties, and the Kurdish diaspora living in the UK provides us further insight into the market. Indeed, people who hold dual nationals or have strong links to Britain drive quite a significant proportion of the business activities.

My hope is that as Britain and Kurdistan build upon this important and valued relationship, it will continue to unlock exciting opportunities, strengthen ties, and enable business to flourish and prosper between our nations – consolidating our ambition to be Kurdistan’s international partner of choice.