Falah Mustafa, head of KRG's Department of Foreign Relations, speaks at an event to foster Kurdistan-US business ties on Monday. Photo: Falah Mustafa
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — As the Kurdistan Region tries to balance US sanctions against its No. 2 trade partner Iran and navigate new governments in Baghdad and Erbil, a US trade delegation is visiting in an appeal to grow existing connections.
The United States Kurdistan Business Council spoke at a reception in Erbil on Monday.
"You're always able to get such an amazing group of people here with so much energy and enthusiasm," said its president, David Tafuri.
He thanked representatives of Kurdistan's business sector for their "warm welcome."
The US delegation brought 35 business people representing 20 different companies, some of which are already doing business in the Kurdistan Region and some which are new.
"You make us feel honored and embarrassed by your graciousness," added Tafuri.
They have met with several ministers of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and more meetings are scheduled.
The Kurdistan Region is in a precarious situation, facing the formation of its own government, US sanctions against Turkey and Iran, and continued strained relations with Baghdad.
"The US consulate has been actively seeking opportunities to engage businesses here to unlock trade and investment opportunities," said US Consul General to Erbil Steven Fagin.
He called the visit an opportunity that "demonstrates the deepening of business ties... and a renewal in trade and investment."
Fagin is new Erbil. He was posted to the Kurdistan Region in July.
"In my short time here, I have had the chance to meet with representatives of various US companies. I have been impressed with their commitment to US standards of doing business and to showing customers in the Kurdistan Region that the United States truly has the best products and brands in the world," he said.
The KRG is often criticized by entrepreneurs for layers of bureaucracy and connections needed to enter the market.
"We welcome the efforts of the Kurdistan Regional Government to demonstrate that the Kurdistan Region is open for business," Fagin said.
Erbil Chamber of Commerce Chairman Dara Jalil al-Khayat welcomed the visiting delegation.
"We as the chambers of commerce of Sulaimani, Duhok, and Erbil would like to warmly welcome you," he said, pointing to KRG Representative to the United States Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman's "readiness in order help and enhance the business relations."
The Kurdistan Region faced an economic downturn after Baghdad slashed its share of the federal budget, conflict with ISIS erupted, the arrival of 1.8 million IDPs and refugees, and a global drop in oil prices.
"We are ready to boom. We are ready to flourish in our business relations with the United States and all other countries," Khayat said.
He considered it a "duty" to meet with the US delegation.
"We are ready to receive any delegation from any country because it will be beneficial for their country and the Kurdistan Region as well," added Khayat
The NGO is based in Washington, DC, and is nearly six years old. They will travel to Sulaimani and Duhok provinces in order to further foster business ties.