A huge exposition opened on Monday in Amman, bringing together almost a thousand exhibitors and thousands more participants interested in getting their foot in the door for the large number of reconstruction projects anticipated in Iraq over the coming years.
The expo, dubbed Rebuild Iraq 2005, has 985 exhibitors from four countries. The range of products on show is huge, from machines that make plastic bags and paper products, to small hand tools such as screwdrivers and drill bits, all the way to at least one group here that is in the business of selling bridges.
Fadi Kaddoura, the project manager for Rebuild Iraq 2005 said that millions of dollars in sales and contracts will likely trade hands over the next few days. While many smaller businesses and sub-contractors come to make purchases and establish contacts, the big money comes from the Iraqi ministries.
"The ministries with big cash, the Water Ministry, Electricity Ministry, Housing Ministry, Oil and Gas Ministry, Education Ministry, they are the guys with big money," Kaddoura said. "Those ministries are sending delegates from their technical and procurement departments, and some of them have huge budgets, some as huge as $20 million and $25 million, and they are coming here with budgets in hand, ready to make deals with exhibitors."
Another large sector here involves those people involved in the provision of security supplies and services. Fred Khoroushi, of the U.S.-based Alpine Armoring Inc., said business has been very good in Iraq for his company, which makes armored vehicles for military, police, and civilian uses. "It's been a terrific market," he gloated. "Even though it's been stabilizing somewhat, it is still a growing demand."
"Traditionally, those vehicles have mostly been sold to the U.S. government in Iraq and their subcontractors, but now it is evolving into the local market," Khoroushi explained. Ranging in price from $125,000 to $185,000 such protection doesn't come cheap. "VIPs, government officials, local businessmen, are all worried about all sorts of attacks, and they are willing to pay the price for some sort of protection," he said.
Even though this year's event is slightly smaller than the rebuild Iraq expo that was held in 2004 in Kuwait, most people have been very pleased so far. Still, some have expressed hesitancy about how reliable work can be in Iraq because of the present security situation. Dean Michael is an Iraqi, but he has lived in New Zealand for most of his life. He returned about two years ago to contribute to the reconstruction process and do business in Iraq.
"The infrastructure in Iraq is not good, and business and investors won't come to Iraq until it is more reliable. But the infrastructure projects cannot begin really until security improves," Michael said.
"That is the first issue the new government must deal with - first, to improve security and the rule of law, and second, to improve laws that relate to investment."
Still, despite such problems, Michael is optimistic.
"The birth of a new government, and the introduction of a new democracy, that will not happen in one week or two weeks, it will take a while. Still we are hopeful it will go well, we are optimistic over there. There are a lot of mistakes being done, and there will be more, but at the end of the day it is much better than yesterday," he said.
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