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King’s assuring message to business world ‘boosted morale’ — businessmen

By Omar Obeidat - Aug 26,2014 - Last updated at Aug 26,2014

AMMAN – As a stable country in a rough neighbourhood, Jordan has missed some economic opportunities over the past few years that could have boosted investment inflows and export volumes, according to business leaders. 

The leaders of some key economic sectors, however, agreed that the Kingdom is still in a good position to turn challenges caused by regional turmoil into gains through adequate planning and true partnership between the public and private sectors.      

In separate interviews with The Jordan Times on Monday, the private sector representatives –– who attended a meeting with His Majesty King Abdullah last Thursday to discuss the economy –– highlighted the strengths of Jordan's economy that should be tapped to attract international investors. 

They described the remarks of King Abdullah during the meeting with them as a “strong message to Jordanian and foreign businesspeople that Jordan is a safe haven for investors”, as he reiterated that the Kingdom’s main concern is the economy rather than political or security problems.

“… If we can solve the problem of the economy… we will overcome the biggest challenge facing us today, because our problem is not political or a security one, it is about economy,” the King said at the meeting. 

 

Lost opportunities 

 

President of the Jordan Chamber of Industry Ayman Hatahet said that the Kingdom could have attracted more international and regional investments in the last three years due to its stability and security, which neighbouring countries lack.

Hatahet noted that Jordan’s industrial sector has missed some opportunities to increase its exports to regional markets, particularly the Gulf region, which he said used to import large quantities of their goods from Syria, Turkey and Lebanon. 

Instability in Syria brought the “large” export volumes of these three countries to the Gulf to almost zero, he said, noting that Jordan-made products could have replaced or covered part of these exports. 

“Also we should have worked on attracting manufactures from Turkey, Lebanon and Syria that used to export to Gulf markets to open factories in the Kingdom,” he noted, indicating that Turkish exports, mainly food products and textiles, to the United Arab Emirates alone through land shipments used to reach $14 billion a year. 

Replacing 10 per cent of these shipment volumes would have made a difference to Jordan’s industrial sector and could have also created many jobs, Hatahet explained, adding that Jordanian industries in the fields of food processing, textiles and pharmaceuticals enjoy good reputation worldwide. 

President of the Jordan Chamber of Commerce Nael Kabariti agreed with Hatahet on lost chances, elaborating that many investors from unstable Arab countries were considering moving their businesses to Jordan but due to the “reluctance” of government entities in charge of investments they settled in other regional countries. 

Kabariti charged that inconsistency in business legislation not only pushed Iraqi, Syrian and other investors to leave the Kingdom but also prompted Jordanians to seek other competitive markets. 

“Jordan lost many opportunities because of a lack of a clear economic vision and instability in legislation,” he added. 

The remarks of the business leaders were echoed by Kamal Awamleh, president of Jordan Housing Developers Association, who cited a recent report that Jordanians were the biggest Arab investors in Dubai’s property market. 

“Those investors should have remained in Jordan,” Awamleh said, charging that bureaucracy in government agencies and the multiple investment authorities were to blame for losing important investments.

The businessmen agreed that the King has repeatedly directed the government to solve private sector problems and attract investors, but they added that consecutive governments have failed to turn Royal directives into action.   

 

Brighter picture 

  

At the meeting, King Abdullah emphasised the availability of economic opportunities that should be tapped and stressed the need for speedy efforts to finalise the 10-year economic plan he tasked the government to prepare.  He also called for deciding on economic priorities and revisiting relevant legislation, in a manner that eliminates investment obstacles and allows the private sector to have broader opportunities.

The sector leaders voiced optimism following their meeting with the King. 

They said that there are many advantages that can enable Jordan to turn challenges into real opportunities.   

 

Seriousness in stimulating the economy 

 

The private sector representatives said the government of Abdullah Ensour is currently exerting serious efforts to find long-term remedies to the Kingdom’s economic woes and to achieve sustainable growth after the King’s directives to draw the 10-year blueprint. 

However, they urged the government to revisit economic and business legislation, namely, the draft laws for income tax and investments to be debated during the current extraordinary session of Parliament, as “the bills would be vital in attracting investments and expanding businesses”. 

Kabariti described the King’s directives to the government to eliminate the problems of the businesses as motivating. 

  

Stability 

 

Jordan’s stability and security should be marketed well, said the interviewees, who pointed out that the King’s remarks on the current political and security situation boosted morale in business circles. 

Local investors have always believed in Jordan’s stability, Hatahet said, adding that the King’s assurances of a safe future has boosted this confidence and sent a message to foreign businesspeople that the country is still a haven for their businesses.  

Awamleh said in light of chaos in the region, the security advantage Jordan enjoys should be marketed in a way to attract more capital inflows. 

“Jordan is a bright spot in the darkness of this stage in our region’s history,” he said. 

 

King’s involvement  

 

According to the business leaders, King Abdullah’s regular meetings with representatives of the private sector to discuss the business climate in Jordan and investment obstacles is also an advantage that should encourage investors to settle in the Kingdom. 

     

 

Resilience 

 

Hatahet said that Jordan has been undergoing difficult times due to external factors, mainly regional instability, but stressed that the Kingdom’s economy has always proved to be resilient to external shocks. 

“We’ve seen difficulties in the 1980s and 90s and recently but we have always managed to come out stronger,” he added. 

Awamleh indicated that short-term planning has always helped the country exit economic troubles, adding that the long-term plan would place the economy on the right track. 

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