A former serving mayor of Amman and former chief of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority, Aqel Biltaji today sits as the president of the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Jordan (CAFRAJ). The chamber, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2018, sees potential for French companies to use Jordan as a springboard to begin the reconstruction of Iraq, an event that may be just around the corner. Mr. Biltaji tells us more about France’ impact in Jordan, as well as missed opportunities.
What impact has French investment had on Jordan?
The French were the very first people to have built railroads in this part of the world, and France’s Lafarge is the largest cement company in Jordan. Today, French companies are also very into renewable energy and water development. For example, French utility Suez constructed the Wadi Ma’in Desalination Plant.
Where are there missed opportunities?
I’m surprised that Dead Sea products are not exported more to France. I also believe that relations with the minerals industry and France should be developed more. At the moment, France gets its fertilizers mostly from Morocco, but that could change.
Why do you believe Jordan is best equipped to handle the reconstruction of the region?
Foreign investors looking at the reconstruction of Iraq, and even eventually Syria and the West Bank, would benefit from human capital in Jordan. His Majesty King Abdullah II refers to Jordan as the springboard for the reconstruction of the Levant. Going into a partnership with some of the capable local contractors here would allow investors to spearhead the reconstruction of the region.
How can Jordan prove its credentials to host large-scale reconstruction?
The Abdali Boulevard project, a large mixed-use residential and commercial complex in Amman, will attract more investors like this. This project demonstrates EU commercial standards, which can then become accessible to the rest of the region.
What kind of potential does Iraq hold for French companies?
The opportunities in Iraq will be broad. The petrochemical industry, for example, has not been properly tapped and eventually Iraq would need that industry developed to fund reconstruction. By proximity, we will be the people that will be very involved in that development. Indeed, Jordan will be sending an engineering team of 100 to 150 people to go to Iraq very soon.
What is your outlook for the future of your nation?
Resilience is a quality that has become synonymous with Jordan. We have managed to survive waves of refugees, wars and economic hardships. Today, we’re ready for the critical mass effect. The Abdali Boulevard project is a jewel, but it has not been polished; so is Jordan. But everybody knows the value. Everybody knows that Jordan has proved its stability.