Assuming a role that is now being emboldened through international investment, Jordan has begun piecing together new logistics and transport infrastructure to cater to regional rebuilding efforts. The reconstruction of Syria alone, says Jordan’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Supply, Yarub Qudah, is set to reach well over $400 billion. He shares with us more about how Jordan can be a base from which to set the region back on track towards stability.
What role will Jordan play in rebuilding the region?
After its closure in 2015, the main border crossing between Jordan and Iraq was reopened in August 2017, offering huge potential for the reconstruction and rebuilding of Iraq, especially given that Jordan has more than 800,000 Iraqis that have moved here over the last 20 years. Jordan, the only country who has common borders with both countries, clearly shows that it will become a hub for the rebuilding of Iraq and Syria. Accordingly, the Government of Jordan has worked on building the logistics and the structure needed for having that hub, starting from the logistical center in Al-Mafraq, which is close to the Syrian borders and on the international roadway to Iraq. We’re also rebuilding the logistical airports with a strategic partnership using US investment, which clearly shows that there is interest from the international community to make Jordan the hub for rebuilding activities.
What do you think will be the pricetag for reconstruction?
The cost of the rebuilding in Syria will exceed $400 billion dollars, according to the World Bank. But according to our studies, the total cost might reach $1 trillion dollars in the coming seven years, starting from the rebuilding of Iraq and of Syria.
Can Jordan handle such a task at the moment?
We know for sure that the Jordanian economy will never be able to seize such a huge opportunity alone. This is where we will need international partnerships. We believe that because French investments in Jordan are big, one of the biggest group of non-Arab investors, which this clearly shows potential to create more partnerships with France. Going forward, regional reconstruction would require creating effective partnerships with Jordanian firms in all economic sectors in a way to ease the establishment of French investments and facilitate the movement of French products into Iraq with a special focus on French construction and building industries.
How has the war forced Jordan to rethink export markets?
We are focusing on building three markets. The first one is the EU market, with which we have established an agreement for the relaxation of the Rules of Origin. There have been some challenges, mainly concerning the requirement of Syrian labor. Nevertheless, we’re now discussing with Brussels to re-negotiate this article, especially after almost two years of having the agreement without any real results. The second market is Africa, which involves building bilateral relations across the continent. We might work together with the French and Jordanian business community, targeting the EU and the African market. The third market that we’re targeting is NAFTA. We have a free trade agreement with the US and Canada. It was very successful by jumping from 70 million exports to $1.7 billion in trade. It represents at least 25% of Jordan’s exports, but it was not really successful because 95% of our exports to the US are government-linked industries.
Why has the EU-Jordan Rules of Origin deal faced difficulties?
The Jordan-EU decision to simplify rules of origin, including the adoption of smoother procedures for the issuance of work permits for Syrian, was meant to be for the benefit of Jordanians and Syrians. Yet, the Jordanian privates sector could not fully benefit from this deal due to a number of challenges, mainly the slow pace of recruiting Syrian refugees, which have been largely reluctant to legalize their working status in Jordan for several reasons. Firstly, Syrians fear of losing their “refugee status” and subsequently the financial aid granted by international agencies. Secondly, most of the working Syrian refugees lack the proper experience to qualify to work in industrial facilities, yet they are reluctant to join vocational trainings offered by several NGOs and international donors. Finally, we have noticed an unwillingness to settle for the minimum wage offered by employers compared to the level of income they can secure while working in the unofficial market.