07 August 2003 | David Arminas
UK companies moving into Iraq for reconstruction work face tough obstacles in putting together a dependable local supply chain because of a lack of information about which companies still operate.
Speakers at the "Reconstructing Iraq" conference in London gave details of damaged and non-functioning government-owned companies, such as cement plants and brick factories.
There is also general disarray in, and lack of knowledge about, private-sector companies - most of which are small to medium-sized enterprises.
A big question is which SMEs still operate and to what capacity, said Reem Beydoun Kouatly, a senior financial analyst at Kuwait-based Global Investment House, which acts as an intermediary for foreign companies.
Reem told delegates that many government-held statistics and details about private companies were lost during the war and its aftermath.
The Baghdad stock exchange is running again, but there are only 90 companies listed.
Reem told SM: "It is difficult for a foreign company to find suppliers of goods and services. One way is to get in contact with the chambers of commerce in Basra and Baghdad, and the industrialists' unions in those cities.
"There is also a businessmen's association and an association of Iraqi investors."
Reem said foreign companies would need to find a good agent to act as an intermediary, especially with SMEs, because of their lack of dealing with foreigners after years of isolation under Saddam Hussein's regime.
"The best way is to hire an Iraqi national who knows your language and can help in contact with Iraqi businesses."
Under the present conditions, finding a local partner that can deliver what they say they will is extremely difficult, according to Ian Killick, export operations manager at Thorn Lighting.
Until the first Gulf war, Iraq was Thorn's largest territory in the Middle East. Killick recently went to Baghdad to re-establish links with old contacts and find new ones.
Thorn is on the verge of agreeing an exclusive distribution deal with an Iraqi company, but Killick is concerned that it is "50-50" whether the country can rebuild its infrastructure quickly enough to stave off civil war.