How would you describe relations between the KRG and the Italian government?
The KRG has established close and broad-based relations with the Italian Government, with extensive collaboration at political, diplomatic, economic, social and cultural levels. Since achieving autonomy, the Kurdistan Region has focused on strengthening its relations with its neighbors and with the rest of the international community. Within this framework, diplomatic representations abroad were opened in order to serve as operating arms of the government. I have established relations with several political forces in Italy to spread knowledge about the Kurdistan Region. In recent years, relations with Italy have become much stronger. This is demonstrated by President Barzani’s many official visits to Italy, in order to meet the highest authorities of the Italian Government and the Vatican. Moreover, due to the exponential growth of the Kurdish economy, increasing numbers of Italian entrepreneurs are visiting the Region to identify commercial opportunities. As such, the Italian Consulate in Erbil now maintains a desk designed to promote and to increase the Italian commercial presence in the Region.
In what sectors in Kurdistan have Italian businesses found the most success? What sectors do you believe provide the most opportunity going forward?
Italy has the highest number of commercial exchanges with Iraq of any European country, and is the third (after Germany and France) in terms of export volume to the Region. Italian exports to Iraq and the Kurdistan Region have, in recent years, followed a trend of growth that is continuing to increase. Italian entrepreneurs are increasingly interested in investing in the Kurdistan Region, largely thanks to the 2006 Investment Law. The main areas of interest and active participation of Italian businesses are construction, infrastructure and energy, as there is extensive demand for Italian expertise in these sectors. For example, FG Tecnopolo, an Italian engineering firm, designed the city of Erbil’s underground network, and Italian architects and engineers will be designing the new KRG Ministry of Education in Erbil. The areas on which we must focus increasingly are engineering, infrastructure, agribusiness, pharmaceuticals, energy, and tourism.
Our key message to the Italian business community is to exploit the huge investment opportunities in the Kurdistan Region. Italian businesses that enter the Region will receive extensive support from our Representation, as well as the Italian National Construction Association (ANCE), based in Rome, which organizes regular missions to the Region, and the Italian Consulate in Erbil, which provides Italian businesses with trade and insurance services.
Can you tell us about the MOU signed recently by the KRG and Italian Society of International Organizations (SIOI)?
The SIOI is the most well known Italian research and training institute for international professionals. The agreement signed between the KRG and the SIOI is the byproduct of a longstanding relationship of collaboration and exchange with the SIOI. The SIOI’s current President, former Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Franco Frattini has close ties to the Kurdistan Region, having overseen the opening of the KRG’s Representation in Italy and promoted the opening of the Italian consular office in Erbil. President Frattini and the SIOI are now working with the KRG Department of Foreign Relations (DFR) and Minister Falah Mustafa to provide technical support to the DFR’s continued growth and expansion. Therefore, when Minister Falah Mustafa visited Italy in December 2013, a MOU between KRG and the SIOI was signed to establish various collaborative projects between the parties, from the organization of conferences and seminars, to the creation of a diplomatic institute in the Kurdistan Region, and training courses for international Kurdish officials.
What topics and sectors will your Representation focus on for 2014 and beyond?
The Representations of the KRG abroad today have a considerable role in the continued development of the Region’s international political-economic, social, and cultural outreach. In this regard, the Representation in Italy represents the KRG at the State of the Vatican, S. Marino, Malta, and United Nations Agencies. It will maintain diplomatic relations with the institutions of the Italian Government, but also will promote ever more investment opportunities in the Kurdistan Region for Italian entrepreneurs. For this reason, the Representation provides information to Italian entrepreneurs regarding investment opportunities in Kurdistan, as well as assistance facilitating such investment. The Representation will also intensify its consular activities, including issuing visas to the Region, and will continue to promote Kurdish cultural activities in Italy, through the Italy/Kurdistan Association of Friendship and Cooperation.
Do you have estimated figures regarding the levels of Italian business and investment in the Kurdistan Region? What is your key message to the Italian business community?
There are currently 50 Italian companies with a presence in the Kurdistan Region, a number that represents a trend of significant growth over the last few years. Our key message to the Italian business community is to exploit the huge investment opportunities in the Kurdistan Region. Italian businesses that enter the Region will receive extensive support from our Representation, as well as the Italian National Construction Association (ANCE), based in Rome, which organizes regular missions to the Region, and the Italian Consulate in Erbil, which provides Italian businesses with trade and insurance services. As the economies of many western countries, including Italy, are still recovering from unprecedented economic crisis, growth in expanding markets such as that of the Kurdistan Region can provide a springboard for a new cycle of growth.