As foreign investment increases in Iraqi Kurdistan, cultural boundaries are being broken.
- Ling, from Anhui province in eastern China, has been managing the shop there for about six months after responding to a newspaper advertisement by a Chinese firm.
- The Chinese market is in the newly opened Kawa Mall in Sulaimaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan’s second city. Chinese people, outlets and a restaurant dominate the top two floors, which are reserved for firms from the world’s second biggest economy, of the Kurdish-owned shopping centre.
- The majority of the approximately 500 Chinese in Sulaimaniyah, which has a municipal population of about 750,000, work in the mall. Chinese flags, lucky cats and paper lanterns make for an incongruous sight as locals in the widely pleated trousers, flayed suit jackets and turbans of Iraqi Kurdistan pass by.
- Foreign investment is increasing in Iraqi Kurdistan. More than half of the 1,170 foreign firms investing there are Turkish, working in areas such as construction. Multinational firms are monitoring development of the area’s 43.7 billion barrels of proven oil and 25.5 billion barrels of potential reserves.
- Funds from abroad are also making their way into retail in an attempt to exploit the consumer potential of the 4.7 million strong local population, of which more than half are under the age of 20.
- International investment surpassed $14bn from mid-2006 to September 2010, unconfirmed official sources have said.
- The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is hoping the estimated 250,000 to 300,000 foreigners it has so far attracted to the region will help to enervate some of those deficiencies.
- There is no initial visa requirement for visitors and businesspeople in the KRG and foreign businesses are permitted the same rights as their domestic counterparts, permitting them full ownership of properties and activities. This is in addition to entitlements to 10-year tax breaks and the freedom to repatriate all capital.
- “From Turkey and Iran, the Emirates, Lebanon, Egypt. Now many companies from Italy, Germany, Korea, have come to Kurdistan to invest.”
- Yet, life with regular electricity blackouts and military checkpoints between towns in the KRG is not easy. Unemployment is at 14 per cent.
- Andy Liu, a 31-year-old from Hunan province, said the lack of wealth in the local economy was putting his business under strain.
- Of those locals she interacts with, Ling said: “Some people are very good, very friendly. But some are very bad. They cheat people and steal. But I think that a lot of people are nice and very friendly. They agree with people from other countries.”
- The KRG is seen as a testbed for Iraq as a whole. Businesses are looking at options for the country’s mineral wealth, abundant agricultural and construction potential, enterprising human capital and tourism.
- The International Monetary Fund predicts GDP growth in Iraq to be 11.5 per cent for 2011, although at present conditions are generally considered too unsafe for widespread outlays.
- “But I think business is better here than in China. It is good for me.”