Kuwait to give Md. special consideration in reconstruction projects

May 03, 1991|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,John H. Gormley Jr. of The Sun's Business staff contributed to this article.

/TC Maryland companies could be in line for millions of dollars in new business related to the rebuilding of Kuwait as a result of an agreement reached between the state and the government of that war-torn nation, Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced yesterday.

In addition to giving Maryland companies preferential treatment in supplying a wide variety of products, including medical equipment and building materials, the accord is also designed to have the port of Baltimore ship some exports from the United States to Kuwait.

The agreement is expected to be signed by Governor Schaefer and Saud Nasir Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador, at a State House ceremony today.

"The agreement means that the people of Maryland will join with the people of Kuwait in a special relationship to help rebuild Kuwait," the governor said in a statement.

Under terms of the accord, companies in the United States sending cargo to Kuwait will be notified by Kuwaiti officials to route their shipments through the port of Baltimore or out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport whenever it is economically feasible, state officials said in announcing the program.

According to Curt Matthews, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development, the Persian Gulf nation has designated Maryland as a "primary procurement agent" in fulfilling its vast restructuring needs.

He said this means that Kuwait has agreed "to look at Maryland first" as it shops the U.S. for goods and services. Assuming their prices are competitive, Maryland companies would have the first opportunity to fill the orders.

But all final decisions on purchases will be made by the Kuwaiti government, Mr. Matthews said.

For its part, Maryland would do the leg work in preparing bids and making certain that companies bidding for the work can actually deliver the product. This information would be sent back to Kuwait for final approval.

The day-to-day handling of the procurement activities will be the responsibility of the Kuwait-Maryland Partnership, an organization formed earlier this year by a group of business leaders seeking to coordinate business operations throughout the state into a one-stop shopping center where the Kuwaiti government can come for a wide variety of goods and services.

William Parsons, president of the Kuwait-Maryland Partnership and of Parsons Co., an architectural and engineering company in Monkton, said that a computer data base of Maryland has already been prepared with specific information to identify the resources available.

The agreement that will be formalized today also provides for a volunteer emergency relief team to provide health and medical services. The team, under the direction of Dr. James D'Orta of Franklin Square Hospital, has been ready for weeks and is still waiting to leave on 24-hour notice.

Other provisions of the agreement note that Maryland has companies lined up to supply temporary housing, health-care facilities and architectural and engineering services. "This means that these things are in place and ready to go on a short notice if the Kuwaitis say they need them," said Mr. Matthews.

When the call comes, it is very likely that this equipment would be loaded on ships here. O. James Lighthizer, the state's secretary of transportation, said: "Our commitment in this agreement positions BWI Airport and the port of Baltimore as international gateways in the effort to assist Kuwait."

Jean Abi Nader, executive director of the Washington-based National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce, said it was very difficult to fix precisely in dollars or in tonnage how much new business would move through the port as a result of the agreement.

He noted, however, that U.S carmakers are expected to ship 50,000 vehicles to Kuwait over the next year.

"I would hope that the majority of these automobiles would move through the port of Baltimore as a result of this agreement," he said.

Port officials have agreed to set aside up to 90 acres somewhere in the port to handle cargo slated for shipment to Kuwait.

The potential boost to the port could be great. Already some cargo for the reconstruction of Kuwait has begun to move through Baltimore. P. T. O'Malley Lumber Co. Inc., based in Sparrows Point, is filling an order for 75,000 board-feet of shoring timbers produced by an Eastern Shore sawmill.

Maryland could be on the verge of cashing in on what appears to be a special relationship between the governor and Middle Eastern officials.

Mr. Matthews said the relationship stems from the governor's hosting a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family, Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, at a luncheon at the Walters Art Gallery in 1989.

The governor led a trade mission to Saudi Arabia in 1989 in search of business opportunities for Maryland companies. Earlier this year, the governor also accompanied the emir of Kuwait on his return to Kuwait City after the end of the war.

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