What is your evaluation of the performance of the Kurdish economy under your direction?
The people and the government of Kurdistan have created unprecedented growth over the last several years, and the stability of our achievements has been severely tested in 2014. In some cases, progress is most clearly visible in times of crisis. As Prime Minister, I am humbled by the resilience, the cohesion, and the dedication of our people. I would also like to point to the key role of both domestic and foreign companies, as they have maintained their belief in the success of Kurdistan and continued to serve as the engine of our economy through these challenging times. I believe our future is indeed bright, and this is due to the character and the daily contributions of the citizens of the Kurdistan Region.
The trajectory of our economy remains healthy. Certainly the security threat from ISIS terrorists, the disastrous policies of the previous Iraqi administration, and the humanitarian crisis facing the Kurdistan Region have prompted the KRG to divert attention and funding from some projects and long-term goals, and this has had a negative effect on our growth. But this is a temporary setback, and already we see signs of recovery. I have no doubt that our markets are regaining their momentum, and the Kurdistan Region will remain among the most attractive emerging markets in the Middle East.
The revenue sharing agreement within the budgetary law of 2015 that we have reached with the federal government is a key step forward. For the first time in years, we have reasonable partners in Baghdad with the will to truly move forward on the political and economic issues that have hampered development for all Iraqi citizens.
In addition, the global response to the ISIS threat may have come late, but it is clear that the world has forcefully rejected this ideology of hatred, violence, and destruction. The KRG is willing and able to stand at the forefront of efforts to roll back and defeat these terrorists. With shared goals of regional stability and security, our people and our government are confident in the recovery and continued growth of our economy.
Why should investors around the world choose the Kurdistan Region as a business destination?
A cornerstone of KRG policy has been the assurance of individual economic freedom and an open market where entrepreneurs, investors, and businesses of various capacities and specializations can drive growth and development. This is true for domestic businessmen and foreign companies and investors as well.
Prior to the security challenges posed by ISIS terrorists, foreign investment in the Kurdistan Region had increased dramatically year on year, and our GDP has grown at a very healthy rate. The security challenges have certainly affected our economy, as have the actions of the previous administration in Baghdad. However, I am very pleased to see that both international companies and investors have not only continued their activities in Kurdistan but have understood that these challenges will pass and our market has a vibrant future. We see business resuming with the pace and enthusiasm that has come to characterize the Kurdistan Region.
Foreign companies are operating in the Region like before, flights in and out of Erbil and Slemani have resumed at the usual pace, and last week’s Erbil International Fair hosted 250 companies from 16 countries, all eager to find their place in our market. The Kurdistan Region’s position as a global energy hub and an important player in the Middle East remains intact, and the short-term and long-term business climate continues to attract investment. Most importantly, leading international companies have demonstrated, through their actions, that this is the case.
On which key sectors would you like to see Kurdistan place more emphasis in order to develop the economy and provide jobs in 2015 and beyond?
Despite the setbacks suffered by the Kurdistan Region and many parts of the Middle East in 2014, our strategic long-term goals remain intact. It is true that we have had to pause some larger projects and investments due to the emergency situation this year, but our plans to develop key sectors throughout the Region will continue to guide our policy.
It is clear that the oil and gas industry drives our economy and the economy of Iraq. I applaud the efforts by the KRG Ministry of Natural Resources to ensure that our citizens and our young students can find a future in this sector. Part of developing our oil and gas infrastructure is investing in our young people and ensuring that we, as a people, master every aspect of this industry.
A cornerstone of KRG policy has been the assurance of individual economic freedom and an open market where entrepreneurs, investors, and businesses of various capacities and specialisations can drive growth and development.
Like other oil-rich economies, the Kurdistan Region must attach importance to economic diversity and the development of diverse sectors. Agriculture, agro-industry, and water resource management present great opportunities but also challenges to be overcome. Technology is a key factor in this regard, and I hope companies and investors will pay due attention to this exciting sector.
As Kurdistan finds its place on the map as a global energy hub, key cities such as Erbil, Slemani, and Duhok will be blessed with new and exciting economic opportunities. The tourism industry requires wise investment and a vision for the near future but also the next ten and twenty years.
Day after day, private companies are answering the demands of the market in a way that the government never can. There is no question that our dynamic free market economy has been the key factor in our growth, in fields as varied as healthcare, education, oil and gas, construction, agriculture, tourism, and technology. All of these sectors require careful analysis and investment, and the KRG is committed to serve as a stable, helpful regulator, ensuring that foreign and local companies are able to operate in a responsible and successful manner.
The KRG has allocated time and energy to ensure a fair and transparent employment atmosphere, particularly in the private sector. We are working to better tailor our educational system to the current labor market so that our young people are properly equipped to join the work force. Of all investments and all priorities, I do not see anything more essential to our economy than education. The availability of jobs and the growth of various sectors of our economy only help us to the extent that our young men and women are provided with the tools they need. Investment in education is the most sustainable of all investments, and I believe our schools, universities, and technical training institutions deserve as much emphasis and funding as we can provide. In the final analysis, the ability and the skills of our citizens will ensure the welfare of our Region.