APPG Chair, Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, today asked the Trade Ministry the following question.
“The recent report from the all-party group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, which I chair, identifies opportunities for British bodies in energy, solar power, film production, higher education and agriculture, including quality pomegranates from Halabja, and it states that the Government should organise a second official trade mission once covid allows. Will the Minister talk with his colleagues, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and the APPG to consider how such a trade mission could boost investment and trade with our allies, who constantly seek British expertise, goods and services?”
The Minister, Mr Jayawardena, replied: “Sadly, such travel is somewhat restricted at this moment in time, but my right hon. Friend is right to highlight the opportunities across the whole middle east region. For instance, in the education sector, which I know is a particular passion of his, my Department has supported companies to win more than 30 contracts in the middle east, worth more than £58 million over the past year. I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend to take that forward.”
The minister is right to highlight the UK’s educational soft power in the Middle East and more widely. There is a hunger for learning in the Kurdistan Region but many universities need reforming so they offer better courses and help educate a workforce for the new economics that will see a lesser place in revenue streams for oil, thanks to currently lower prices and the prospect of reduced global demand as the world reduces its reliance on hydrocarbons.
The APPG has suggested the UK sends a fact-finding mission to scope the potential for reform of higher education.
We have also suggested a second trade mission so that British investors and public bodies can see Kurdistan for themselves and, we hope, invest there.
Covid makes that impossible for now but Robert Halfon has put the issue on the agenda for when times improve.