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Singapore Business Conference Aims to Attract Iraq Investors

Economic advisers to the interim authority in Baghdad are in Asia in hopes of attracting investors in Iraq's reconstruction. A conference of business people are meeting in Singapore.

U.S. economic advisors in Iraq are promising Singapore investors "unlimited opportunities" in the oil-rich country. At a conference in Singapore, Richard Greco, an economic advisor to the chief U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, says money could be made in telecommunications, transport, electricity and water sanitation.

Right now, however, Iraq's banking system is barely functioning, and there is no reliable supply of electricity.

Larry Lam, chairman of Portek International, a port services company, is optimistic. He was doing business in Iraq before the war, and hopes to expand his company in the post-Saddam Hussein era.

"If you want to catch the most worms, you have got to get up early and go there before the others," he said. "There is a certain amount of risk, but the risks are considered manageable at this time. At the moment the attacks are still on the military targets. Civilians and businessmen are not the targets."

Other would-be investors are worried about getting involved this early. Security, for one, is a worry, with U.S. soldiers being targeted by Iraqis loyal to Saddam Hussein. Some also question the lack of regulatory or legal framework to protect potential foreign investors.

Wealthy Singapore seems to be a logical stop in the bid to secure investment in Iraq, after Jordan and the United States. It is home to many high technology companies, and its government is a strong ally of the United States.

Two government-linked companies, Singapore Airport Terminal Services and Keppel Integrated Engineering, are among the first to venture into Iraq. Together, they will provide ground-handling services at Baghdad International Airport, where commercial traffic is expected to resume later this month.

The investment conference, co-organized with the government-owned International Enterprise Singapore, attracted more than 200 business people from shipping, construction, hotels, insurance and telecommunications.

Mr. Lam says, while U.S. companies are getting the bulk of business opportunities in Iraq, he believes there is room for Singaporean expertise.

"Right now … you can't expect to walk away with big fat contracts amounting to millions of dollars," he said. U.S. advisor Mr. Greco admits the provisional authority in Baghdad is facing many problems, but he assures investors that officials are working to revive business in Iraq.