The reopening of borders with Iraq did not bring a return to pre-war trade volumes for Jordan, but during the closure the Kingdom was prompted to prepare for such an event by securing new markets and developing its port city of Aqaba. President of the Jordan Businessmen Association Hamdi Tabbaa explains how Aqaba is readying to become a regional trade hub and why the EU’s rules of origin scheme may not work for Jordanian companies.
What can we expect following the reopening of Iraqi borders?
Iraq recently allowed Jordanian trucks to enter for the first time in three years, and Aqaba is now the only port for the Iraqis to utilize. I think Aqaba will soon be booming with business providing transport to Iraq. For us, Iraq was our main market for export. Also, there is an oil pipeline being constructed from Iraq’s Bisha to our Zarqa refinery, and then down to Aqaba where the Iraqis would like to build a refinery so they can export through Aqaba and compete with the Saudis.
Why has the EU Rules of Origin Agreement not been quickly adopted? Is it because they require Syrian employment?
Why do they involve the refugees? Jordanian unemployment is about 18.5%. True, the Syrians are my neighbors, my cousins, but why should I take the burden. Jordan is not a rich country. Still, we have offered them education, healthcare and primary services, such as water and electricity. It’s a burden on Jordanians to host them. So far, only about three companies were able to meet EU conditions. It’s a pity.
And what new markets is Jordan considering?
We have made some visits to East Africa to look for new markets, consequently establishing a council in Djibouti. Djibouti will be our regional hub, and might provide Jordanian exporters with a free zone, allowing for access all the way to promising markets in the area. Moreover, now that Turkey’s borders are closed to Syria, we have a RoRo vessel line from Turkey down to Lebanon, and then the Suez Canal to Aqaba. They Turkish might use Aqaba as a hub for East Africa in this manner, as well.
What sectors would you recommend to foreign investors?
Jordan is a service-oriented economy, but we also export to 60 countries. Tourism is stable, with 97% of arrivals this year compared to last year. We have a very good healthcare sector. The banking system is 100% Jordanian, with around 47% of shareholders being of Arab origin. Right now, we are concentrating on the IT sector, as well. I believe Jordan could very soon be a hub for IT in the region. So far, we are number one for the creation of Arabic content. The emphasis should be put on high value-added products and services, in general.