Turkish business delegates arrived for talks in Erbil on Sunday as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) embarks on a mission to attract new investors.
More than 50 companies and around 150 traders are taking part in the Trade Summit taking place at Erbil International Hotel, organized to boost trade volume between the neighbors.
Trade volume between the Kurdistan Region and Turkey in 2017 was $8.1 billion. This fell to $6.7 in 2018.
“It will be the duty of the president of the Region to pave the way to develop close relations between the Region and our neighbors for economic and trade development, strengthen diplomatic relations, and find joint solutions for joint problems and interests,” Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani said during his inauguration on June 10.
The Region relies on neighboring Turkey for the lion’s share of its trade and investment. Like Iraq to the south, the economy is weighted heavily in favor of foreign imports of food and consumer goods, paid for with oil wealth.
Exports make up a tiny fraction of the trade relationship. Domestic agriculture and manufacturing have suffered as a result.
The Region has long said it intends to open a new border crossing with its northern neighbor to facilitate further trade.
“[Turkey’s] trade volume with Iraq as a whole is $10 to $12 billion and there is an opportunity to increase this to $20 billion and this can be done mainly through further development, improvement, and broadening of the Ibrahim Khalil crossing,” KRG spokesperson Safin Dizaye told delegates Sunday.
Ibrahim Khalil, near Zakho in northern Duhok province, is the main land-border crossing between the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, and Turkey.
The Iraqi side of the crossing is controlled by the Peshmerga and Kurdish border officials. Customs revenues are paid to the KRG, which also issues its own visa stamps independently of Baghdad.
There have long been discussions over a potential new crossing in Ovaköy, 12 km southwest of Ibrahim Khalil, which could bypass the Kurdistan Region entirely and allow Turkey to trade directly with Iraq.
Such a new crossing could boost trade and tourism and relieve notoriously long delays at the border. However, a new crossing manned by Iraqi officials could see the KRG sidelined, eating into trade and revenues.
“We believe in strengthening Kurdistan’s economy and we want to further increase and strengthen trade exchanges between Turkey, the Kurdistan Region, and Iraq on the whole,” Dizaye added.
Chambers of commerce from Turkey and the Kurdistan Region are taking part in the summit, including the Kurdistan Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
“We are working together with Turkey’s businessmen and business chambers of Mersin, Kayseri, and Gaziantep to introduce the traders who have come here to Kurdistan traders. From now on, we will be encouraging traders who have been exporting their goods to Kurdistan to bring their factories to Kurdistan and invest from here,” Gailan Haji Sahid, president of Kurdistan Association of Importation and Exportation, told Rudaw.
The Turkish delegations hope to build on the already strong relations.
“There are strong relations and mutual love between the people of Turkey and northern Iraq. We have come here to further strengthen and support these relations. We as nations of this region can run this region well if we have good relations with each other,” Ayhan Kiziltan, president of Mersin Business Chamber, said.