Ambassador Romanowski’s Remarks at Access to Finance Conference

USAID Access to Finance in Iraq, June 29, 2022

Good morning, everyone.  I’m excited to be here, Governor Ghalib, it is a pleasure to see you.  Thank you for attending this event and giving your attention to the important issue of access to finance in Iraq.

On behalf of the United States, we also extend our appreciation to the Government of Iraq for its partnership in identifying priority reforms that will enable the private sector to provide public goods and services to Iraqi citizens.

I am also grateful for the participation of so many private sector partners –both lenders and borrowers –in today’s access to finance discussion.  Having representation from both the private and public sectors is an outstanding opportunity to understand one another’s points of view and develop strategies to expand financing opportunities that address the real needs of businesses and entrepreneurs in Iraq.

I want to also thank the European Commission, the German Corporation for International Cooperation, the International Finance Corporation, UNDP, the World Bank, and the ILO for attending and sharing their points of view and experiences.

I am also pleased to see business students in the audience today.  Thank you for your participation.  I hope – and expect – that in a few years, some of you will be delivering speeches at conferences like this one, talking about your successful new businesses made possible because of the robust financing ecosystem in Iraq.

The U.S. government under the auspices of the U.S. Agency for International Development, is proud to launch this conference, which continues our longstanding commitment to supporting the development of a robust private sector in Iraq, built on the principles of transparency, opportunity, and innovation.

Increasing access to finance is an important part of ensuring long-term economic growth and greater opportunities for all Iraqis.  This is especially important considering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that many businesses are still feeling today.  The pandemic also limited our ability to come together in the same room and develop solutions to pressing problems.  After two years, I am glad that we can be together in person today.

In addition to COVID, Vladimir Putin’s unjustified and unprovoked war on Ukraine is having an unquestionable impact on the Iraqi economy, upsetting critical supply chains and contributing to global inflation.  Now more than ever, it is important that Iraq develops a strong private sector that can withstand the economic uncertainties and strain of these global challenges.

We know that longstanding barriers in accessing bank finance have limited private sector growth in Iraq, particularly for start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises.  These businesses are the lifeblood of any economy and hold great potential for sustainable job creation and inclusive economic growth.

One thing we know is that healthy economic growth cannot happen without accessible financing options.  This is why we are here today:  to work together to tap into the extraordinary potential that exists in Iraq, in all of you, and in those who contribute to a thriving private sector.

I am proud of the on-going support from the United States to our Iraqi partners to develop a more prosperous, transparent, and inclusive Iraqi private sector.  In the past 18 months alone, USAID has attracted over $40 million in private investments to expand economic growth and promote greater prosperity across the country.  Let me highlight a few success stories:

We wrapped up 2021 by helping Miswag, a growing Iraqi e-commerce marketplace, raise over $1.6 million to scale its operations.  At the start of 2022, we helped Alsaree3, the Iraqi food and last-mile delivery service, raise over $4 million, by connecting them with new investors and facilitating the investment process.

A few weeks ago, USAID helped raise $18 million in equity for Toters, a leading Middle Eastern online marketplace startup business in Iraq.  We also granted over $150,000 to Green Shovel, a smart greenhouse and irrigation system startup, as part of USAID’s efforts to promote a green economy in Iraq.

We have also made headway in enhancing lending opportunities to Iraqi businesses.  USAID is in the initial stages of establishing a loan portfolio guarantee for Iraqi private banks, through the U.S. Development Finance Corporation.  This will expand the lending portfolio of Iraqi private banks – with a particular focus on women-owned or led businesses.

In addition, USAID granted nearly $400,000 to Stitching SPARK and the Iraqi Private Banking League to promote innovative financial solutions, increase lending to local firms, and advance private banks’ lending portfolio.

And that’s not all.  I am thrilled to announce today an important public-private partnership project to build Iraq’s first large-scale industrial gasses separation plant, made possible through support from USAID.

This eight-figure investment is formed as a public-private partnership with the Iraqi Ministry of Industry and Minerals.  It will replace an aging state-owned plant, help reduce Iraq’s reliance on imported medical oxygen and liquid nitrogen, strengthen local supply chains, and create more than 30 new jobs.

USAID supported Atlas Technical Group in finding Al Majal for Oil and Energy Services as the investor and partner for this important project.  On behalf of USAID, I would like to applaud the efforts of Atlas Technical Group, Al Majal for Oil and Energy Services, and the Ministry of Industry and Minerals for this landmark transaction that will not only address critical supply chain needs but will also create possibilities for even more innovative partnerships in the future.

Seeing all of you and looking over the substantive program, I am truly excited about the next two days.  From government stakeholders, international donors, new financing partners, U.S. businesses, and of course Iraqi businesses – each of us plays a critical role in overcoming the barriers identified and forging a more promising path forward for financing opportunities for companies of all sizes.

I hope you all take advantage of the panel discussions, business-to-business meetings with world class advisors, business developers and investors, and all the other great networking opportunities this conference represents.

I would like to close by expressing my gratitude for the leadership of my counterparts from the Ministry of Finance and the Iraqi Central Bank – in addition to the invaluable experience and perspective from all of you.  I am confident each of you will contribute to the success of this conference and ensure a brighter future for doing business in Iraq.

It is important to remember that expanding prosperity to all citizens not only promotes a healthy economy, but a strong democracy.

Unlocking financing opportunities will help aspiring entrepreneurs get the support they need to transform their dreams into a reality.  It will help startups scale up and boost the capacity of established businesses to dream bigger, expand their businesses, and help grow the Iraqi economy.

Thank you very much for your attendance.  I wish you all a productive and stimulating conference.