EghtesadOnline: The Iraqi Kurdistan Region and Iran are in the process of expanding trade relations on a long-term basis, the prime minister of the Kurdish region said on Wednesday.
The fourth joint economic conference kicked off in Erbil with the participation of Kurdish, Iraqi and Iranian officials.
During the two-day conference, Nechirvan Barzani also said that the Kurdistan Regional Government supports any activities that will help strengthen trade with the neighboring country of Iran, Kurdish media reported.
He mentioned that recent dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad had resolved disputes between them, mostly related to the Kurdistan region’s border crossings and trade activities, and have found a way to do so within the framework of the Iraqi Constitution, according to Financial Tribune.
Barzani stated that there are ongoing talks with Baghdad to address all remaining issues.
$6.5b in Annual Bilateral Trade
The Kurdish premier stated that current total trade between Erbil and Tehran adds up to about $6.5 billion annually.
He also noted that 67% of automobile imports to the Kurdistan Region are brought through the Iranian border.
According to Barzani, there are 359 Iranian companies and 135 Iranian factories in Iraqi Kurdistan, all of which combined, create hundreds of local jobs.
There are three international border crossings between the Kurdistan Region and Iran: Haj Omran, Bashmakh and Parvizkhan. There are also five additional local-level gates, some of which Barzani said the KRG will strive to upgrade them to the international level.
More than 54% of Iran’s exports to Iraq are carried out through Parvizkhan border crossing.
To further enhance Iran-KRG trade, Tehran and Erbil have reportedly agreed to raise the number of border crossings between them to six from a current three.
According to Iraqi government statements, experts from both sides have already carried out ground inspections in areas where they hope to set up new border terminals to ease commercial traffic.
The areas that have reportedly been designated for new crossings are (from north to south) Sairan-Band; Qalat near Sulaymaniyah; and Choshma in Halabja.
Barzani noted that KRG intends to open a free trade zone at the Parvizkhan border crossing with Iran to expand trade activity.
Opportunities in Kurdistan
The conference was organized by KRG’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Iran’s Minister of Industries, Mining and Trade Mohammad Shariatmadari, along with his deputy Mojtaba Khosrotaj who also doubles as chairman of Trade Promotion Organization of Iran, attended the event.
Participants included Iraqi Acting Minister of Industry and Minerals Mohammad Shia al-Sudani, Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi and the governors of Tehran and other Iranian provinces bordering Iraqi Kurdistan.
“Our presence in Erbil is in fact for finding business opportunities in the Kurdish region to help boost bilateral economic cooperation,” Shariatmadari was quoted as saying by IRNA at the opening of Erbil conference.
He added that there are plans to establish a free trade system between Iran and Iraq.
The main aim of the conference was to strengthen trade relations between Erbil and Tehran.
“I hope this conference will be followed by better steps to improve economic and trade relations between Erbil and Tehran,” the KRG premier said before the conclusion of the event.
According to Aballah Akrayi, an official at KRG’s Foreign Relations Department, ties between Tehran and Erbil (KRG’s administrative capital) have warmed noticeably since KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani visited Tehran earlier this year.
In a meeting between Barzani and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Jan. 22, the latter called for closer economic cooperation between Tehran and KRG, stressing Tehran’s desire to invest in development projects in Iraq’s Kurdistan.
Masoud Barzani Meets Iran’s Envoy to Iraq
Former Kurdistan Region President and President of the Kurdistan Democratic Party Masoud Barzani on Wednesday met with the Iranian ambassador to Iraq and discussed bilateral relations between the two countries.
“The meeting addressed bilateral relations between the Kurdistan Region and the Islamic Republic of Iran,” a statement from Barzani’s official website said.
The statement added that both sides considered Erbil conference a “good step” and described it as “successful”.
“[The conference] will lead to the strengthening of economic relations between the [Kurdish] region and the Islamic Republic,” it read.
A memorandum of understanding was signed between the two sides on Wednesday with the aim of expanding mutual business relations.
Iraqi Kurdistan is a landlocked region heavily dependent on its neighbors.
According to official KRG figures, Iran represents the Kurdish region’s second largest trading partner after Turkey.