Expanding economic opportunity in Iraq is as essential as building democratic institutions. The United States is encouraged by Iraq's democratic gains and economic progress and that's why it is hopeful that businesses will invest there and help the Iraqi government create the conditions for investment and growth that will provide economic opportunity for those willing to work hard and wish to acquire the education and skills required in the modern world.
The investment potential in Iraq is immense. The International Monetary Fund has projected Iraq to grow faster than China in the next two years. Iraq's 30 million people are amongst the largest consumer bases in the entire Arab world. The country sits above one of the world's largest supplies of oil and has one of the best educated workforces in the region, including many university educated women who should be encouraged to enter the workforce.
With that said, Iraq remains a tough environment. There are still serious security challenges, bottlenecks, unclear regulations, and significant corruption. However, the government of Iraq has taken steps to address these issues and has publicly committed to make Iraq more business friendly for Iraqis and foreign investors alike.
The United States is working diligently with the government of Iraq to improve the investment climate in Iraq. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation has already committed over one-hundred fifty million dollars in financing in Iraq, and the Export Import Bank has been approached by several project developers, exporters, and financial institutions to discuss transactions in power projects, real-estate development, manufacturing and agriculture. Garnering interest among the business community to apply for Exim Bank financing is one of the bank's most important objectives in 2011.
Iraq's future depends on strengthening its democratic institutions while developing a free market economy. The United States stands ready to be a partner and help every way it can. But ultimately, these decisions are up to the Iraqi people: the leaders of the government, the leaders of industry, and of course, Iraqi men and women who want a better future.