What particular expertise can Dutch businesses or investors bring to the Kurdistan Region? What opportunities do they see in the Region?
The Netherlands has some of the world’s most advanced companies concentrated in its agriculture, food processing, and water management sectors. As agriculture is a major focus of the KRG’s economic development plan, Dutch companies can make important contributions to these sectors. Dutch companies are also very innovative and adept in construction and infrastructure development, ICT, and the healthcare sector. The companies that we work with are very enthusiastic about the economic environment and potential for growth in the Region, and the Region’s excellent record of security and stability. They understand the gaps in the market, and see opportunity in improving the quality of products and services available in the Region. They see a great opportunity in the transformation of Kurdish society, including growth in demand and increased potential for production in the Region. Dutch companies are also aware of the shift that is taking place in the Kurdish workforce from the public to the private sector, and hope to contribute to the development of the Region’s human capital to facilitate this pivot.

What challenges persist in the development of increased commercial relations between the Netherlands and the Kurdistan Region?
There is extensive potential on both sides for mutual economic benefit. In agriculture for example, as I mentioned earlier, Dutch investment and expertise could prove extremely beneficial to the Kurdistan Region. However, the largest challenge that we face is a lack of coordination from both sides. The Trade and Agriculture ministries in the Netherlands and the Kurdistan Region are positioned such that building the necessary bridges for foreign investment into the sector can be challenging. Additionally, diplomats on both sides, while effective, are constrained in terms of time and resources to facilitate the level of commerce that could be realized. In these situations, calling on members of the Kurdish diaspora in the Netherlands, and groups such as KDBC, can prove helpful. Dutch companies are aware of the potential opportunities in the Kurdistan Region; they just need improved coordination to facilitate their entry to Kurdish markets.

The companies that we work with are very enthusiastic about the economic environment and potential for growth in the Region, and the Region’s excellent record of security and stability. They understand the gaps in the market, and see opportunity in improving the quality of products and services available in the Region.

How has the large Kurdish diaspora in the Netherlands helped to develop commercial relations between the Netherlands and Kurdistan?
The Kurdish diaspora has contributed extraordinarily to building and sustaining commercial relations between the two communities. However, I believe that the Kurdish expatriate community could be mobilized to do much more for Kurdistan’s economic diplomacy. The KRG could be making better use of the international Kurdish community by drawing on the expertise and qualifications of expatriate Kurds to further its foreign and domestic economic goals. This could be done relatively easily. For example, the establishment of a European-Kurdistan Task Force (EKTF) for fostering trade and business opportunities across Europe could be an excellent step toward mobilizing the Kurdish community abroad for the interests of the KRG. The KDBC would be happy to lead such an initiative, in cooperation with the KRG’s EU Representative in Brussels, and Chambers of Commerce in the Kurdistan Region.

What plans or initiatives will the KDBC be focusing on throughout 2014?
Throughout 2014 we will encourage Dutch businesses to take more aggressive steps into Kurdistan. We would like to see more local offices opened in the Region by Dutch businesses, and we would like to facilitate more joint ventures with local companies. We are also working with the Dutch Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Economic Affairs to encourage the establishment of a fully equipped Dutch diplomatic office in Erbil. Such an office would work with Dutch and Kurdish businesses and individuals to streamline investment processes between the two communities and provide consular services. Additionally, there are no economic agreements between Iraq or the Kurdistan Region and the Netherlands. Trade agreements, for example, could help to facilitate additional economic interaction. As such, we will work with the KRG and the Dutch ministries this year in promotion of economic and trade agreements between the two governments.