US recruitment drive meets with mixed reaction in UAE

Despite eager and responsive attitude, few local companies appear willing to commit to Iraq contracts

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By  Eudore Chand Published  May 1, 2004

Major American contractors have found UAE contractors and subcontractors eager and responsive for work in Iraq. However, they also found a reluctance to physically enter the vast Iraqi market just yet. The UAE was the first stop last week on a seven-nation tour by American contractors who between them hold about US $6.7 billion worth of contracts, and who are looking for subcontractors. The reliance placed by the main contractors on the UAE was evident as it was the only destination in the Gulf that was visited by them. The other Middle Eastern countries included Jordan and Turkey. Though American contractors showed a preference to source subcontractors from within the region, lack of sufficient physical response has forced them to cast their net wider to as far away as Australia and South Korea in the east to Rome and Madrid on the European continent. The UAE’s contractors and subcontractors are still holding back from moving into Iraq despite the fact that billion of dollars worth of reconstruction contracts and subcontracts are still up for grabs. Growing security fears are putting off the region’s construction companies from taking part in the rebuilding of the war-torn country, but the US government is trying to encourage regional firms to work there. Last week’s Iraq Now Opportunities for Subcontractors conference held in Dubai highlighted the many opportunities available in Iraq. However, UAE’s contractors seem reluctant to move into Iraq because of the current security situation. “The security situation is stopping a lot of construction companies from going to Iraq but there are a lot of contracts available,” said Peter Meijer, commercial manager, Van Oord ACZ. Speakers at the event explained how contractors should go about applying for contracts and registering with the federal government. But many of the attendees remain cautious about sending staff into Iraq. “At the moment we wouldn’t base any of our staff in Iraq because of security issues,” said Richard Taylor, general manager, Aditya International. The US has pledged $18.4 billion for reconstruction, more than one third of the $55 billion that the World Bank estimates will be necessary to get Iraq back on its feet. Primary contracts have gone largely to US companies and their allies. Like the rest of the Gulf, Iraq has been dependent on foreign labour for technical and manpower requirements to build infrastructure. However, hostilities and the following spate of kidnappings of foreign nationals have forced hundreds of workers to leave the country, suggesting the situation was set to get a lot worse before getting any better. Despite this, the end of April also marked the start in Dubai of the global tour. The objective was clear. The corporate heavyweights, among them Kellog, Brown and Root, Lucent and Fluor-Amec have $6.7 billion in construction subcontracts up for grabs and want to reassure companies that Iraq is a viable product and highlight just what opportunities are available. “’Iraq Now will offer those hoping to secure contracts in Iraq the [chance] to discuss opportunities with companies who are already doing business in the country,” explained Jason David, US consul general in Dubai.

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