Tehran, Baghdad set $20b trade target

Iran and Iraq have agreed to increase the value of their bilateral trade to $20 billion in the near future.

"We agree to increase the value of mutual economic and trade exchange, which is expected to reach 10 billion dollars by the end of the current year, to 20 billion dollars in the near future," Iran's First Vice-President Mohammadreza Rahimi told reporters in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on Thursday, IRNA reported.

Rahimi arrived in the Iraqi capital on Wednesday for a two-day official visit.

He also noted that Iranian and Iraqi officials have held "useful and constructive talks" to expand cooperation.

The two sides on Wednesday inked six memoranda of understandings to boost ties in various sectors such as information technology, health and medication and culture.

The documents were signed by the Iranian first vice- president and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad.

--- Iranian companies on way of Iraq

At an economic forum in Baghdad on Wednesday, Iranian businessmen expressed a keen interest in investing in Iraq's vital oil industry.

"We are very, very eager to get involved in energy projects in Iraq. We have knowledgeable engineers in the oil business," Hameed Ridha, commercial manager of the Shahed Oil and Energy Group, told Reuters. "We are very eager to get involved in building refineries."

Iranian businessmen said one hurdle in trading with Iraq was that deals were mainly done in U.S. dollars and euros, making it difficult for Iran, which is under international sanctions.

"The big Iranian companies have the ability to engage in trading and investment in Iraq in oil, gas, petrochemicals, agriculture, heavy industries, electricity and religious tourism," said Hassan Kazemi Qomi, head of the Iraq-Iran economic development committee and Iran's former ambassador to Iraq.

"Trading between Iraq and Iran reached $6 billion last year... We're looking to make it $10 billion this year and $20 billion in the coming five years," he said.

Iran has invested in building power plants, schools, hotels and brick factories as part of Iraq's reconstruction efforts. Iranian exports to Iraq include construction materials, petrochemicals, industrial and medical equipment and food.

Iraq's cabinet approved a $365-million contract with Iran two weeks ago to build a pipeline to move gas from Iran to Iraq for power generation. The five-year deal will generate 2,500 megawatts for Iraq, which has a chronic electricity shortage.

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