The lines began forming early in the morning on October 12. The doors opened promptly at 9:00 a.m., and thousands of Iraqis began streaming into the pavilion housing the American exhibition at the 40th annual Baghdad International Fair: it was the Iraqi government’s strongest showing of its commitment to economic growth and modernization.
Among the half million visitors who attended the fair’s 10 days were businesspeople, government officials, and even families with children on an outing interested to see the latest equipment and goods from the United States. Many were eager to enter their names in the drawing for the Ford Escape on display, and crowds surrounded the sleek sedans that were the exhibition’s centerpiece.
Ford, General Electric, Boeing, MasterCard, and Microsoft were among the largest U.S. companies represented, which also included KBR, Caterpillar, DYNCORP, Citi, Case New Holland, and Rapiscan. Coca Cola, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National US Arab Chamber of Commerce were among the sponsors, and residential and commercial development company Markez supported logistics for the American stands.
Staff from the U.S. Embassy’s Foreign Commercial Service (FCS) and Economic Section were on hand to advise local businessmen on trade and partnership possibilities. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) presented Foras (“opportunities”), a workforce development program matching Iraqi women and youth to private sector jobs. Underlining the value of American higher education to Iraq’s economic development, the State Department-funded EducationUSA program was also at work, with Arabic-speaking specialists ready to explain the process of applying to American universities.
This year’s fair was Baghdad’s largest to date, with representatives from some 20 countries. Iraq is eager to integrate into the global economy and the growing American presence at the fair is proof that there is business to be done.
As OPEC’s second largest producer after Saudi Arabia, Iraq has accelerated development of its oil and gas infrastructure to further boost production and exports, thereby driving and funding Iraq’s broader economic growth and development.
Despite real concerns over security and the continuing challenges of bureaucracy and corruption, Iraq’s economy grew by 8 percent last year, outpacing China. More than a half dozen new U.S. franchises entered the market over the last year, and U.S. trade with Iraq increased to $21 billion in 2012. Essential goods and services provided by U.S. suppliers are helping Iraq rebuild both its infrastructure and industrial capacity, and create new jobs.
During the official opening ceremonies on October 10, U.S. Ambassador Beecroft noted that the presence of U.S. exhibitors is proof of the strong economic ties that bind together our countries. American companies increasingly see long term opportunities in this Iraqi marketplace.
Potential investors must of course be ready to confront Iraq’s specific safety concerns. Security was tight around the Fair and in the surrounding neighborhoods, slowing foot traffic, but doing little to stem visitors’ enthusiasm. Despite a decision by authorities to bring the fair to an early close on the tenth and final day, the exhibition took place successfully and safely.
Representatives of U.S. companies were pleased with the opportunity to discuss future business arrangements with potential partners, and to answer enthusiastic questions from visitors. The biggest question on everyone’s mind, however, was answered on the final day of the exhibition: the happy lottery winner of the Ford Escape, a high school chemistry teacher, had a brand-new mode of transportation home to Diwaniyah, 180 kilometers from Baghdad.
About the Author: Conrad Turner serves as Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.