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Short Takes: News from the International Trade Administration

U.S.–Iraq Business Dialogue and Iraqi Business Gateways Initiative Launched

On February 19 and 20, 2007, Franklin L. Lavin, under secretary of commerce for international trade, led a Department of Commerce business and policy mission to Erbil, Iraq, where he discussed economic policy and private-sector development with his counterparts in the central and Kurdistan regional governments.

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In Erbil, Iraq, two managers of the Ankara-based Nursoy Group of Companies give Under Secretary Franklin L. Lavin an overview of the skyline-defining
In Erbil, Iraq, two managers of the Ankara-based Nursoy Group of Companies give Under Secretary Franklin L. Lavin an overview of the skyline-defining “Naz City” apartment complex. The mid-rises are the first of their kind in Erbil and are the most visible signs of the growing prosperity and hopefulness of this region of Iraq. (U.S. Department of Commerce photo)

On February 20, Lavin joined three Iraqi ministers—Abd al-Falah al-Sudani, minister of trade; Fawzi al-Hariri, minister of industry and minerals; and Bayan I. Dazaii, minister of construction and housing—in inaugurating the U.S.–Iraq Business Dialogue. The dialogue is a group of 10 business leaders from each country who will advise both governments on economic reform and business development.

During the trip, Lavin asked the Iraqi leadership to consider four economic policy areas in which the United States can play a constructive role: (1) strengthening the management and capability of state-owned enterprises, (2) enhancing the effectiveness of the public distribution system, (3) increasing the capabilities of the banking sector, and (4) developing the housing sector. “By working together and sharing ideas we can help Iraq down [the] path of economic growth and progress,” noted Lavin.

An important part of the two-day visit was the unveiling of the inaugural edition of a rotating series of private-sector showcases, Iraqi Business Gateways, organized by the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service’s staff in Baghdad and Erbil to highlight the Iraqi Kurdistan region as a platform for trade with and investment in Iraq. As part of the showcases, Lavin also visited Erbil’s busy downtown district to view several bustling construction projects. Future editions of the Iraqi Business Gateways program will include site visits, presentations, research, counseling, and business facilitation to other cities in Iraqi Kurdistan. According to Lavin, “Many of the participating companies have long and successful histories of doing business in the region. We want to get American companies to start thinking about Iraq and expose Iraqi business opportunities outside of the country.”

For more information about opportunities in Iraq, visit the Web site of the Commerce Department’s Iraq Investment and Reconstruction Task Force.

Cooperative Agreement Signed to Promote Travel and Tourism Industry

Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez announced on January 30, 2007, a $3.9 million cooperative agreement with the Travel Industry Association (TIA) to promote travel and tourism to the United States. The announcement was made in Washington, D.C., during a meeting of the United States Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, an advisory body to the Department of Commerce. Also under discussion at the meeting were a number of other important topics, including the Gulf Coast Recovery Strategy, the Discover America Partnership, ease-of-travel issues, and next steps for the travel and tourism industry.

The funds from the cooperative agreement will be used to develop a number of multilanguage Web sites designed to encourage leisure travel to the United States. The sites will help international travelers research and plan their trips to the United States. TIA plans to team up with many of its industry partners, such as Yahoo!, state tourism offices, and Fodor’s to make the Web sites as user-friendly and informative as possible.

“As the organization that represents the interests of the entire U.S. travel industry, we’re uniquely positioned to create world-class Web sites that will provide relevant and meaningful information for travelers from key markets throughout the world,” said Roger Dow, president and chief executive officer of TIA. “We are grateful for the confidence shown in our organization by everyone at the Department of Commerce.”

Commerce Department officials also commended this effort and expressed hope that the initiative will enhance destination awareness, positive perception, and intent to travel to the United States. “This partnership will be valuable to the U.S. travel and tourism industry, which has experienced remarkable growth in visitation since 2004,” said Ana Guevara, deputy assistant secretary for services. “[Last year] was a record-breaking year for the industry. It has shown a full recovery from 9/11 and once again played a critical role in our economic prosperity.”

TIA plans to target key markets that consistently generate healthy revenues for the travel and tourism industry. The top five markets are Canada, Germany, Japan, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. Those countries account for roughly 75 percent of inbound travel and make up the largest pool of inbound visitors to the United States.

Easing the entry and exit processes for international visitors is another important priority for the Commerce Department. Gutierrez has committed the department to fostering ongoing dialogue with the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security on this issue.

For more information about the tourism industry and the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, visit the home page of the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries.

Agreement with George Mason University Builds a Bridge between Academia and Government

The International Trade Administration’s Manufacturing and Services (MAS) unit signed a five-year memorandum of understanding in February 2007 with George Mason University’s School of Public Policy. The agreement enlarges and extends a pilot program begun in 2005 that allowed the university and the Commerce Department unit to exchange ideas, expertise, and resources.

George Mason University is located in Fairfax, Virginia, and is a part of that state’s higher education system. The School of Public Policy was founded in 1990 and has programs that focus on international trade and commerce and that combine perspectives on business, technology, law, economics, and public policy.

The Commerce Department’s pilot program with George Mason began in February 2005 and ended in January 2007. Many noteworthy achievements stemmed from the program, notably a series of white papers that analyzed current international trade and competitiveness issues. The first study in that series was completed in 2006 and resulted in analysis that enhanced MAS’s ability to identify best-prospect markets for the U.S. travel and tourism industry. The preparation of this analysis brought an estimated cost savings to the government of $6,000.

The new five-year partnership agreement is expected to bring additional benefits to both George Mason University and the Commerce Department. The government will be able to access the wealth of expert advice in trade-related matters that George Mason’s faculty and graduate students can offer. The students will have a unique opportunity to interact with, and learn from, MAS staff members as they grapple with the diverse policy-related issues that the agency must handle on a day-to-day basis.