UK getting fair share of Iraq contracts - O'Brien

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The Independent Online

Mike O'Brien, the trade minister, yesterday insisted that British companies have had a "fair share" of reconstruction work in Iraq.

There has been concern in business circles and reportedly also in Whitehall about the amount of work awarded to British companies following the end of the Iraq war. Mr O'Brien, who has just returned from a trip to Washington to discuss the issue with US officials, said that 20 British companies, including De La Rue, Standard Chartered and Amec, have so far won work in Iraq.

Speaking at an event in Westminster to promote investment opportunities in Iraq to British business, the minister said: "I did not go to Washington for special pleading for British business but to discuss transparency and a level playing field. I got assurances on that."

"We have secured quite a lot of contracts already", he said, adding that it was impossible to say how many of the estimated 17,000 contracts and subcontracts that have been awarded in Iraq, following the formal end of the war, went to British businesses. Speaking after the conference, Mr O'Brien told The Independent: "We are at the start of a process. In the first tranche of contracts, we did get a fair share. The second tranche is yet to come."

The Programme Management Office in Iraq will next month award the second major group of US-funded contracts in Iraq. These deals are worth $18.6bn (£9.8bn) altogether, spread across 17 prime contracts, concentrated on the water, electricity and security sectors.

Yesterday's conference, sponsored by UK Trade & Investment, part of the Department of Trade and Industry, was attended by about 150 companies such asCorus, Royal Bank of Scotland and Reed Health. It was addressed by Tom Foley, the director of private sector development in the Iraqi Coalition Provision Authority - the country's de facto government - and the Iraqi trade minister, Ali Allawi.

Mr Foley said he was in the UK to "persuade business to come into Iraq and bring their capital". He said security concerns were "not nearly as great as it seems on television".

He confidently predicted that economic growth was about to take off in Iraq, which made it a very attractive place for business. "There's great long-term potential for UK companies in the private sector." He said unemployment had fallen steeply since the end of the war, from more than 50 per cent to 28 per cent and that 1 million jobs would be created from the upcoming contract awards.

"In 12 to 18 months, Iraq will be a booming economy. In 5 to 10 years, Iraq is likely to emerge as the economic powerhouse of the Middle East," Mr Foley said.

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