While the EU has rightfully rallied to mitigate heavy external stresses placed upon Jordan from the region, France has long been a visible ally in Amman, building relations in more than just humanitarian causes. French Ambassador to Jordan David Bertolotti met with us at the Amman embassy to detail how French companies are transforming Jordan’s telecom, ICT and petroleum service industries.
What is France’s perspective of Jordan in its Middle East foreign policy?
Even before war broke out in Syria and Iraq, France has always seen Jordan as an important security partner. Our armies have long worked together, both for training and in operations; during the Balkans Wars, the French army was deployed with the Jordanian army. French policy makers always value the views of King Abdullah II.
How does French funding support Jordan, be it humanitarian or otherwise?
France is doing its best to help Jordan shoulder the burden of the refugee crisis, but our relationship is not limited to that. French investments have transformed entire segments of the Jordanian economy, not just in telecom through investments made by Orange, but also in petrol distribution, where Total has been a large driver of change at petrol stations.
Can you give us some examples of how French companies are supporting Jordan’s economy?
French water sector companies provide water for Amman and the northern governorates in a country with the second poorest water record in the world. If people can still live a decent, comfortable life here, with the tourism sector and refugees in the north both still being able to cope, that’s because French companies have helped supply water to the country. Orange is modernizing infrastructure by bringing 4G and fiber. They also have their own incubator called “Big by Orange” in the King Hussein Business Park and are now in their fifth season. France has a lot success stories on which to build upon and we have a strong perspective in certain industries.
What is your opinion of Jordan’s role in rebuilding the region?
Jordan is a potential springboard to the Syrian and Iraqi markets when reconstruction starts. Of course, in Syria the EU is not prepared to commit to reconstruction money until there is a credible political transition. However, reconstruction of Iraq is something different: There is a legitimate government supported by the international community, and reconstruction could begin in earnest within this year. Today, Jordan has the full potential to become this kind of reconstruction hub, which to me means explaining the ideal trading position for European companies before rushing to speak about physical investment in one of the hubs.
What kind of influence does Francophone culture have in Jordan?
Jordan may seem more of an Anglo-Saxon country, but we do have an important cultural presence through the French Institute in Jordan, which is a large supporter of archeological heritage programs. Iconic sites such as Petra and Jerash have been and continue to be excavated and documented by French archeologists.
What sectors should Jordanian exports focus on to enter the EU market?
Cosmetics and Dead Sea products could have high potential if Jordanian producers understand the expectations of European consumers and there is more consolidation in the sector, which is a bit fragmented. There really isn’t a Jordanian brand that stands out yet, and I continue to discover new products. I think that they probably need to focus on one or two brands that would become household names. Furthermore, I’m sure there’s potential for the textile sector. It’s already established as a big export sector for Jordan, but rather towards the US market. Provided the manufacturers here adapt to European tastes and they make the right connections with European brands, I’m sure they can reach results.