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