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Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Secretary of Commerce Don Evans' Speech to the Iraq Business Council

(As Prepared for Delivery)

That was a very generous introduction from Ambassador Bremer. We are truly fortunate to have a man of his talents, his vision, and his resolve leading the effort to help the people of Iraq rebuild their country. Jerry Bremer's leadership reflects great credit on the United States of America.

I want to acknowledge, Representative Al-Rahim, all of the members of the U.S. government working to rebuild Iraq, and all those from the private sector for attending this conference. Rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq is a central element in the war against terror. This Administration is committed to lifting up the Afghan and Iraqi peoples. Investment is a crucial part of that mission and I thank all of you for considering investment opportunities in these newly emerging democracies.

On the strength of courage, determination, and hope, a self-governing country is emerging from the ashes of tyranny. With all of your help, the shadows of fear are fading and a brighter future for Iraq is taking shape. On behalf of the President, I offer thanks for the great service you are performing and the depth of your commitment.

For people living in despair, without opportunity, or the ability to determine their own destinies, two powerful trends bring hope. The advance of freedom is extending the power of democracy to oppressed citizens. And, by jumpstarting troubled economies, direct investments by American companies are transforming lives across the developing world. In nowhere else are these trends converging as dramatically as they are today in the rise of the new Iraq.

As the President's comments on Meet the Press this past Sunday made clear, a free, pluralistic, democratic Iraq is strongly in the best interests of the Middle East, America, and our world. A successful, prosperous, and open Iraq will greatly expand opportunity for the Iraqi people.

A growing Iraqi economy, with clear and transparent rules, will unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of the men and women of Iraq. And by serving as an outpost of democracy in a troubled region, a free and democratic Iraq will help the entire Middle East become more free, more prosperous, and more secure. There can be no doubt: Liberating Iraq made America more safe and more secure.

Is it easy? Absolutely not—some Americans have paid the ultimate price in liberating Iraq from the grip of terror. The United States is committing significant resources to rebuild Iraq after Saddam Hussein's abuses.

It's as difficult a mission as our country has accepted in decades. But doing the right thing often means traveling the difficult path.

We stand at a defining moment in the history of our world. Fortunately, President Bush is leading America and 63 other nations working in Iraq to make the world freer, more prosperous, and more secure.

His forward strategy of freedom is defeating the terrorists and building the free and democratic societies, which will deny terrorism support, shelter, and the tools to commit destruction on a vast scale. As the New York Times reported this week, the terrorists seeking to deny freedom to the Iraqi people sense the ground shifting beneath them. They recognize that the economic and political progress building in Iraq threatens their tyranny of fear.

This much is clear: Freedom is gaining the upper hand in Iraq.

I've been to Baghdad. I've seen the light of freedom shining from the faces of thousands of the men and women we liberated in Iraq. In the fullness of time, the wisdom behind the President's strong moral leadership and the justness and positive benefits flowing from the decision to liberate the Iraqi people from a brutal dictator will be clear and undeniable.

On the basis of their talents, their commitment to education, and their natural resources, the men and women of Iraq have the untapped potential to build both a strong and dynamic economy and a stable society.

Last fall, I traveled to Kabul and Baghdad to measure our progress. Make no mistake, both countries continue to be challenging environments in which to do business. Anyone considering investment or operations in Afghanistan and Iraq needs to be fully aware of the liabilities. But while the bleak news reports from the region catalogue the sporadic violence, the media is largely missing a great story about the economic transformations taking place, especially in Iraq.

In Afghanistan, roads are opening, the constitution is in place, new schools, clinics, and office buildings are going up across the country. The transitional government adopted banking and investment laws that welcome foreign investors.

Almost 10,000 foreign businesses and investors are registered in Afghanistan. And U.S. companies are at the forefront. During the few days I spent in Iraq, I saw Iraq's entrepreneurial spirit breaking out all over Baghdad. I met with school students—and every one of them was committed to attending college.

Most Iraqis have painful memories of life under the dictator but they refuse to let the dark past define their future. Iraq is a nation that is looking forward with optimism and hope. When you think about Iraq, look beyond the present challenges. In time, I'm confident the business climate will be more stable, more solid, and an even larger market than we can anticipate today.

The vast, vast majority of the Iraqi people simply look forward to providing for their families, living in safety, and exploring the benefits of economic and political freedom. Their collective hopes and aspirations form a valuable market for goods and services of all types.

This will mean opportunities for investors, jobs for millions of Iraqis, and strong bonds between Iraq and the free world. The case for an emerging economy and a stable society in Iraq is compelling. Consider the facts.

Iraq has a well-educated, highly motivated workforce. Iraq has fertile soil and a tradition of excellence in agriculture. With proper investment, Iraq could once again be the Middle East's breadbasket.

Iraq's rich history, combined with a stable society, would produce ample tourism.

Iraq is poised to make sizable investments by upgrading information and communications technology.

Iraq's commercial law is intact and it forms an environment familiar to any western business that is already operating in the Middle East. Eventually, a new round of commercial law will bring enforceable property rights, bankruptcy protections, and a well-functioning judicial system.

Iraq's new trade and investment regime removes most barriers to free-market activity. Iraq's tariff is 5 percent and its corporate tax rate is only 15 percent.

I was there at the unveiling of Iraq's new currency. The Dinar is now established and steadily appreciating.

Iraq's natural resources are a dependable source of income for the Iraqi people.

Iraq has the second largest proven oil reserves in the world and plans to produce 3 million bpd of oil by year's end. Iraq's oil revenue will empower the Iraqi people to greatly strengthen their society. The Iraq Stock Exchange will open this month.

And the CPA is installing transparent budgeting for the Iraqi government.

Taken together, these factors offer a promising environment that requires foreign investment to realize its potential. Commerce is the answer. Investment by American and international companies has the power to greatly accelerate Iraq's development into a robust, diversified economy.

American companies are already committed to ambitious projects. PepsiCo is returning to Iraq through an agreement with the Baghdad Soft Drinks Company.

Motorola will supply wireless infrastructure equipment and is already supporting telephony services to U.S. troops in Iraq. And Global Resources for Computing, a small California company, has been on the ground in Iraq since July.

They've built Internet access systems in 18 Iraqi cities and built more than 50 systems. They are living and working completely within the local economy.

All of us seek a world of peace and security and freedom. On Monday, I had the privilege of bestowing the Gold Medal—Commerce's highest honor on three members of our team. They were on the ground in Baghdad early on—laying the foundation for the new Iraqi economy.

Few have done more to expand the reach of freedom than America's men and women in uniform. In Iraq, their sacrifices freed 25 million people from a brutal, destructive tyrant.

Those of you in the private sector also have a different--but critical role in this enterprise. You have the capital, the knowledge, and the ability to revive the Iraqi economy. And while some dangers remain, extraordinary opportunities are quickly developing.

The enduring relationships and understandings developed by trading partners greatly lower the potential for conflict. Thank you for pursuing investment opportunities in the new Iraq.

As Montesqieu explained, "the natural effect of commerce is to lead to peace." This principle is at work in Iraq today.

This mission is worthy of our responsibility as Americans. Thank you for making the world more peaceful and secure. The triumph of the new Iraq will be a beacon of freedom in the Middle East.

And our part in that enterprise, however small, will be a mission of which we can always be proud.

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