As the world waits for war, it's business as usual at the Baghdad International Trade Fair, which will once again host hundreds of international businesses in the first two weeks of November.
Baghdad will soon be bustling with international trade representatives
Before it opens its weapons depots to inspectors, Baghdad will open its conference halls to hundreds of international companies as the city hosts its 35th annual international trade fair in the coming weeks.
Big German names, such as Siemens and DaimlerChrysler, will be among the approximately 90 German companies taking part in the fair, which showcases a broad range of goods for use in the construction, agriculture, tourism and oil industries. Last year, more than 1,650 exhibitors from 47 countries were at the fair and despite the ongoing threat of war, organizers are still reckoning with a healthy turnout for the event, scheduled for the first two weeks of November.
"It’s business as usual," Uli Burkhardt, whose firm is registering German companies for the trade fair, told DW-WORLD.
U.N. encourages Iraqi trade
U.N. sanctions against Iraq have isolated the country economically since August 1990. However, thanks to the U.N.’s oil-for–food program, in place since December 1999, Iraq is allowed to import civilian goods and cultivate trade relations, making the trade fair possible in the first place.
Besides the German companies, French, Italian and Turkish exhibitors are expected to make a good showing at the fair. As no U.S. or British firms will be directly present, representatives from other countries will act as middlemen for their business.
So why are all these companies on their way to what is possibly the world’s next battlefield?
Much ado about nothing?
Burkhardt is anxious to point out that interest in the fair is not new. Many of the firms taking part have been legally doing business with Iraq throughout the twelve years that the U.N. embargo has been in place.
Nor has there been much change with the threat of war looming. In fact, this year there’s been roughly the same number of companies registering for the fair as in the past, Burkhardt said. The organizer believes that the real interest has come from the media, whom he criticizes for being to quick to publish stories about German firms eager to profit from war.
Some German publications have written articles accusing European companies at the fair of "strategically positioning" themselves.
The German news magazine "Der Spiegel" wrote that the companies aim to cash in on the billions of dollars of financial aid that the international community will supposedly devote to reconstructing Iraq in the wake of a war.
Jumping through hoops to register
At face value, the firms going to Baghdad are all doing business on the level. German exhibitors who want to ply their wares there are put through the mill before they are allowed to register.
Companies have to apply both to Germany’s Federal Office for Export Control and to the U.N. to get permission. They must declare all products that they’ll show at the fair, as well as all samples that will be handed out. The whole process is time-consuming, too. The U.N. doesn’t give its OK for up to three months.