Md. firms stymied in efforts to help rebuild Kuwait


Because of an editing error, an article in yesterday's Sun incorrectly reported that Maryland businesses would get $100 billion worth of contracts to assist in the reconstruction of Kuwait. In fact, there were early projections that reconstruction of Kuwait would cost a total of $100 billion, of which Maryland businesses might get a share; those overall projections have been lowered to $25 billion.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Ten weeks ago, Maryland officials were celebrating more than the return of U.S. troops from the Persian Gulf war zone. They were just as excited about having gotten the jump on other states in tapping into the lucrative market of rebuilding the war-ravaged nation.

Under terms of an agreement worked out between Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the state economic-development agency and Kuwaiti Ambassador Saud Nasir al-Sabah, Maryland was designated a "primary procurement agent" and Kuwait agreed to look to Maryland first as it shopped in the United States for goods and services.

Hundreds of Maryland companies aligned themselves with the Kuwait-Maryland Partnership, a private-sector initiative formed to serve as a clearinghouse to process orders for the food, appliances, materials and other items that the governor envisioned being shipped from the port of Baltimore and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

But the quest for a share of rebuilding Kuwait has proved to be more of a bust for Maryland companies than a bonanza.

"In a word: It's been slow," said William Touchard, a vice president and one of the founders of the Kuwait-Maryland Partnership. "We have been very disappointed by the way things have gone."

As of yesterday, Mr. Touchard said, the partnership had not signed a single contract to supply materials to Kuwait. He said there have been a number of inquiries but no contracts.

Based on information from the partnership's representative at its office in Kuwait City, Mr. Touchard believes the vast damage done to the country has delayed the anticipated rebuilding.

"They are still cleaning up munitions, clearing minefields and ridding buildings of booby-traps," he said. "They are still hunting for thousands of people that are still missing."

Mr. Touchard said he has been encouraging Maryland companies that registered with the partnership to "please bear with us. We've not given up the ship yet. We're still hopeful that we will get our fair share of business for Maryland."

Curt Matthews, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development, said that based on reports his agency has gotten from Kuwait within the past 30 days, the bulk of the reconstruction work is not moving as quickly as anticipated.

He said the Kuwaiti bureaucracy, the red tape and the difficulty businesses have had in reaching the right people to make decisions also have been factors in holding up reconstruction.

Early projections that Maryland businesses would get $100 billion in business related to the reconstruction of Kuwait have been lowered to $25 billion.

The agreement between Maryland and Kuwait to use the port of Baltimore for shipments of goods to Kuwait when economically feasible was announced in early May.

At a State House news conference, Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, warned that the Kuwait business was something that might not show up overnight. "This is a long-term deal," she said, and the business opportunities might come over a span of five to 10 years.

The Knight-Ridder Financial News service reported that U.S companies have secured $1.7 billion worth of business in Kuwait since the conclusion of the Persian Gulf war. The news service also reported that about $3 billion worth of opportunities remain for U.S. firms.

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