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Remarks at the U.S.-Iraq Business and Investment Conference

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AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

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Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke
Remarks at the U.S.-Iraq Business and Investment Conference
Washington, D.C.

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Thank you. Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I am honored to be here today to help you celebrate this historic event—the U.S.-Iraq Business and Investment Conference.

I would like to thank the U.S. Departments of State and Defense, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Iraqi Embassy in Washington, D.C. and the Iraq National Investment Commission for their dedication, hard work and vision in creating this event.

I’m told that demand to attend this event was so high that we had to close registration in the middle of last week. So, congratulations to all the organizers for generating this historic turnout.

This conference symbolizes the new relationship between the United States and Iraq. It is one of the first concrete outcomes of the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement—and exemplifies the normalization of our relationship.

As the theme of the conference indicates, the U.S. and Iraq are now focused on building economic partnerships.

Iraq has made tremendous progress in terms of its security and political environment over the past few years. But without economic progress, political and security gains will not last.

Economic progress begins with establishing and enforcing a commercial legal regime that supports private sector development.

I applaud Iraq’s Council of Representatives’ recent approval of amendments to the National Investment Law. This sends a positive message to U.S. firms that are considering investing in Iraq.

Iraq has also moved forward in developing a macro-economic framework by establishing a strong currency, reducing inflation, enhancing fiscal policies and reducing subsidies.

These efforts are helping to create a transparent and predictable marketplace that will help attract direct investment in Iraq from companies throughout the world.

And when more companies choose to do business in Iraq, that means more good paying jobs for the Iraqi people.

That is a win-win for everybody.

Though there is still more work to be done to improve Iraq’s business environment, the government of Iraq is showing its commitment to developing a market conducive to trade, investment and private sector development.

And I applaud the government of Iraq’s recent efforts to fight corruption and the progress it has made toward joining the WTO.

The U.S. Government is committed to helping Iraq develop its private sector—as demonstrated by this conference and the efforts of individual agencies.

The Commerce Department has a Commercial Office in Baghdad that is helping to link U.S. firms with Iraqi partners.

We are also pursuing ambitious technical assistance programs with Iraq. Commerce’s Office of General Counsel has helped Iraq’s Ministry of Oil with the drafting and implementing of contracts with international oil companies.

This program, started last February, was among the joint U.S.-Iraq accomplishments discussed by Secretary Clinton and Premier Maliki last July in Washington.

In addition, our Iraq Investment and Reconstruction Task Force is promoting opportunities and leading business missions to Iraq.

Together with Iraq’s Minister of Trade, I chair the U.S.-Iraq Business Dialogue—a bilateral private sector group designed to advise both governments on challenges to trade and private sector development in Iraq.

Other agencies represented at this conference, including the Department of Defense’s Task Force for Business Stability Operations, USAID, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Trade and Development Agency, are all working to support Iraq’s private-sector development.

Private-sector development is the foundation for a flourishing economy. It offers jobs, stability and hope to nations.

And involvement of U.S. companies in Iraq has begun to bring modern management practices, technology, capital and business know-how to people who are eager to learn and work.

Many U.S. firms have already realized success in Iraq, including some that you have heard from during this conference.

And Iraq has much to offer U.S. companies with bountiful natural resources, an educated workforce, growing demand for consumer and commercial goods and a strategic location that can serve as a gateway to the region.

Opportunities abound in multiple sectors, including agriculture, energy, housing and basic industry.

This conference offers you a unique chance to gather the most up-to-date information on doing business in Iraq—both in the public and private sector.

Iraqi ministers are here to speak with you about how to do business in their sector and share details about specific opportunities.

There are also approximately 250 Iraqi companies here who are interested in doing business with American firms—whether that be serving as a representative, selling and buying goods to and from the U.S., or forming a collaboration.

Today is your opportunity to build an economic partnership. A partnership that will unite people, management skills, technologies and business know-how. A partnership that will build a better future for your company and the people of Iraq.

Thank you, and my best wishes for a most successful conference.