Kurdistan’s economy didn’t collapse during COVID-19 outbreak, says deputy PM

File – KRG Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — The Kurdistan Region’s economy did not collapse during the coronavirus lockdown, Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani said, describing the Region’s people as “resilient”.

Talabani made the remarks on the second day of the virtual conference on Post-COVID-19 Economic Priorities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Representation in the United States.

“The economy did not come to a complete stop because these little businesses are enduring … we are resilient people,” the KRG deputy premier said on Tuesday.

Talabani further said the KRG needs to do reform during the coronavirus time, as the government struggles to pay salaries of its public sectors due to fall in oil prices, Baghdad’s decision to halt sending salaries of employees in April, and the pandemic, which forced the KRG to place the Region under lockdown for several weeks.

“We have to do this [reform] in this COVID climate,” Talabani said.

“We have a government with a lot of bureaucracy … we are cutting the bureaucracy; we want to set up a company in 24 hours,” he added.

The Kurdish official further addressed the importance of encouraging investment, but noted that the KRG does not have the necessary tools to do so.

“That is the biggest challenge that we have,” he said.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary at Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs of the U.S. Department of State Joey Hood, who also participated in the conference, said the United States had been working to the KRG to reduce the bureaucracy and to change the government from a regulatory to a process institution.

“I assure you that we are going to stay engaged with the Iraqi Kurdistan, partly because of the great investment opportunities that are … but also there is the security,” Hood added.

“We appreciate the cooperation,” he noted.

On Monday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes said in a tweet after the virtual conference that the United States remains committed to its partnership with the KRG and the federal government in Baghdad to realize the economic potential of the KRG.

During the conference, Menezes said the United States “enormously hopeful” that the KRG and federal government would work together to implement reform necessary for vital projects to proceed.

“We are hopeful as well that continued progress of this kind will attract even more investment so northern Iraq can fulfil its enormous potential,” he added.

KRG Minister of Finance and Economy Awat Janab Noori, Minister of Planning Dara Rashid and Chairman of Investment Board Muhammed Shukri also spoke about the Region’s economy on the second day of the conference.

The finance minister said the KRG had started its reform plan in increasing revenue, decreasing operational expenditure, reducing red tapes, increasing transparency, and digitizing departments.

“We’re restructuring our tax system and customs in order to increase revenue, support our local production, increase job opportunities, and attract more foreign investment,” Noori noted.

“Foreign investors, by law, are permitted to have the ownership of land. Our Investment laws compared to the investment law in the region are among the friendliest investment laws,” he said.

Meanwhile, the KRG planning minister also said the government had made reforms progress in customs and taxation.

“KRG believes that diversification of economy and revenue is essential because Kurdistan in particular, and Iraq, in general, rely on oil for revenue,” Rashid added.

“We came to an understanding the necessity of having a diversified economy and improving the public service – balance and reform in the finance sector,” he continued.

“Diversification of our economy is part of KRG’s agenda, along with development plans in agriculture and industrial zone.”

KRG Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources Begard Talabani said the Kurdistan Region has “a lot of fertile land” for agriculture, estimating at 3.5 million dunams (8.6 million acres).

“[It is] enough to feed the entire country,” she added.

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