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IRAQ - Oct. 23 - Business Chiefs Sound Out Iraqis On Investment Opportunities.

Despite concerns over both physical and judicial security in Iraq, business leaders insists that the opportunity to invest in the country's reconstruction effort was one they were not prepared to miss. Some 330 companies from 47 countries met Iraqi ministers and possible business partners in a closed-door meeting held in parallel with today's donors' conference. While politicians and diplomats were lobbying for more money for the reconstruction of Iraq, Spanish economy minister, Rodrigo Rato, told the business leaders that "the moment has arrived to take major steps in that direction". Several American businessmen at the conference said they were impressed by the Iraqis. Representatives from other countries were bearish. "The exciting thing for American companies is to meet with Iraqis - not the Coalition Provisional Authority - and talk to them about the possibilities," says a retired US army general who helped plan the 1991 Gulf war, Daniel Christman, from the US Chamber of Commerce. The Vice-Pres. for corporate strategy at DaimlerChrysler,Tim McBride, the auto manufacturer, says: "The Iraqis were extremely articulate and passionate about the challenges they are facing. I am sure they will inspire many companies to have a closer look at opportunities there". DaimlerChrysler is exporting parts to Iraq to keep the country's fleet of Mercedes Benz cars running, he said. While big US engineering companies, such as Bechtel and Halliburton, have already secured billions of dollars in contracts, other US groups are eager to get their feet wet. "This event is not about making deals, but about getting a first-hand idea from the Iraqi ministers about their needs," says regional manager for Africa and Middle East at Caterpillar, Francis Cuttat, the US industrial goods group. Those needs were quite apparent. Improving security for personnel and then guaranteeing a strong legal framework were the top items on the wish lists of the business leaders from both Iraq and abroad. But outside of the US delegation, many business leaders, including those from Spain, which was the strongest supporter of the US and UK-led invasion, were not optimistic. "In the coming months it will be very difficult to find people willing to go," says director of international relations at CEOE(the Spanish employers' association), Jose Maria Lacasa. France, which has said it does not plan to donate any money to the Iraqi cause, was well represented at the private-sector conference after having lobbied the Spanish government for more seats. French businessmen said they were well received by the Iraqi delegation. "I cannot speak for others, but for BNP Paribas we have experienced no problems with the Americans or from countries at the conference," says the in charge of special projects and commodity finance at the French bank Jean-Louis Salas. "We have a long relationship with the Iraqis - we can even joke with them - so there is no problem," he said, though he added that BNP Paribas had not yet decided if it would apply for one of the six banking licences to be offered by the Iraqi central bank. With the exception of Standard Chartered Bank, few big British companies made the trip to Madrid.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Oct 25, 2003
Words:515
Previous Article:IRAQ - Oct. 23 - Iraq Bank Chief Points To Licences For Six Foreign Banks.
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