The US Chamber of Commerce, a US-based business advocacy organization, operates foreign affiliate offices around the world under its American Chambers of Commerce Abroad program, or ‘AmCham’. This spring, the KRG’s first AmCham office will open in Erbil, and the Kurdistan Region will become the latest addition to the AmCham network. The project, conceived and executed by Kurdo Bebak Jaff over the past year, will support US companies when entering the Kurdish market, support Kurdish companies with interests in the US, and pair American and Kurdish companies for joint ventures and partnerships. With support from KRG officials, members of the US Government and private sector, and the local business community, the project was launched in November 2013 in a high-profile event at the Erbil Rotana, and is scheduled to open its doors in coming months. The opening of the AmCham, according to Jaff, “will start a new chapter in economic relations between the United State of America and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.” The project strives to develop a “robust and lasting economic bond” between the two, based on mutual economic and business interests.
According to Jaff, US investment in the Region, already noteworthy, is set to increase further in coming years. “There are already US business interests, directly or indirectly, present in nearly every sector in the Kurdistan Region. However, there is still significant room for growth of US investment in many sectors, and we would like help facilitate that investment.” The AmCham will build upon the growing interest in US brands and products in the Region, primarily targeting sectors where US companies are underrepresented in the market, for its investment promotion programs. These sectors include banking, finance and insurance, agriculture, healthcare, education, consumer goods, environmental management and water treatment, hospitality and tourism, and construction. Jaff stresses the importance of US investment into these sectors: “The innovative nature of American firms has the potential to greatly improve the dynamism and efficiency of many sectors in the Kurdish economy and improve economic growth throughout the Region.” Once open, the AmCham will support businesses in a number of ways. The AmCham will host events that bring the US and Kurdish business community together with US and Kurdish public figures, and will serve as a center for information and advice on trade, investment, and commerce, as well as customs duties, tariffs, and regulations in the US and the Kurdistan Region. The stated mission of AmCham, according to the US Chamber of Commerce, is to “advance the interests of American business” abroad and to serve as a “bridge between nations to represent the concerns and interests of the business community at the highest levels of government and business.” Jaff has been building these bridges for some time now. He has a long history of organizing commercial and trade delegations between the US and Iraq, having served several years with the US Government, focusing on commercial affairs and business promotion at the US Embassy in Baghdad. Most recently, in support of the AmCham, he organized a delegation including KRG Minister of Trade and Industry, Sinan Çelebi, to visit commercial organizations including the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC. Jaff intends to continue leading trade missions to the US, which will support the Kurdistan Region’s businesses through increased ties with US firms, and among the AmCham’s initial major activities is the facilitation of two delegations of US businesses to the Kurdistan Region this fall.
The AmCham also has regional ambitions. Among the AmCham’s initial projects will be integration into the Middle East Commercial Center (MECC). The MECC is a regional commercial body composed of business communities, non-governmental organizations and inter-governmental organizations from around the Middle East. Jaff met in February with leaders across the Middle East at one of the MECC’s initial conventions in Jordan, and has taken steps for the AmCham to become an active member of the organization. The Center is working to improve the business and economic environment throughout the Middle East.
Its initiatives include improving market access and the movement of goods through the Middle East, by developing trade corridors and improved supply chains; improving natural resource cooperation to ensure the region’s food, water and energy security; developing Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in the region to encourage additional investment; and promoting entrepreneurship. The MECC also seeks to serve as a “platform for collective policy action to expand economic prosperity in the region and engage the international business community and government.” These regional goals, believes Jaff, will improve business and increase investment in the Kurdistan Region, benefitting both local and American businesses in the Region.