Special feature: JORDAN

Interview with Mr. Edward Oakden CMG, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Jordan

May, 2017

QThere is no question that the UK and Jordan have enjoyed very close economic and political relations for many years. One must also take into consideration the close ties the Royal family has with Britain as well. In regards to relations with British Armed Services there have been regular visits and training events such as Exercise Pashtun Commando 2013. In your opinion, what has been the foundation for this close bond between the two nations both politically and economically?

Mr Edward Oakden (EO): There are 3 reasons why the U.K. is in Jordan with the strength and the policy that we are. The first is because we are here to strengthen and support Jordan’s security, the second is to support its stability, the third is to support its economic resilience. All of those are important self-evidently to Jordan but also to the U.K. and we are working on each of those areas as a partnership.

We need to think where is this country going to be in the next 15 – 20 years? We need to think of how to support His Majesty the King’s vision of 2025, where he would like to take the country and how we can contribute to his very important and challenging agenda. When you are a smaller land-locked country like Jordan, one must think, what is the strategy to achieve that over the medium term?

QIn a region that has suffered extensively through instability and conflict, Jordan has been a beacon of stability and safety. There are concerns, however, that because of the huge pressure being put on this country due to large refugee population, this will not continue. Do you still see Jordan continuing to remain safe and stable?

EO: Jordan is very fortunate to have a very capable security services and armed forces which have over time proved their ability to protect the country. We have been glad to work closely with them through this period and see this continuing.

Jordan had strong regional markets in Iraq and Syria, those sooner or later will come back, but in the meantime how does it orient itself, how does it generate young people who are going to lead and create the businesses. There are strong sectors here already in financial services, renewable energy, and tourism, there is an enormous scope with unique offerings.

QAs a result of the Syrian Crisis, Jordan’s infrastructure and economic resources have been put under immense pressure. This is to be expected when you consider the 1.3 million refugees that have been given a home here. Could you comment on the efforts taken by the U.K. government to help provide for this immense influx of refugees other than building business?

EO: We have put out money where our mouth is. In London we raised what is a record amount in one day, roughly 12 billion dollars pledged over 2-3 years for the region including nearly 2 billion dollars in grants for Jordan. We have doubled our aid over the past year, it is about a quarter of a billion dollars.

We need to reassure British tax payers their hard-earned tax pounds are translating into practical help to repair schools, to provide health services for refugees and Jordanian children. Recently, for example, we are providing 30 extra waste trucks to take solid human waste from Amman out to where it can be treated, we have trained 3000 teachers over the last year, and will be repairing more than 300 schools. A few months ago, people were killed by a piece of falling masonry so we put 6 million pounds, which is one and a half times the national budget, into repairing schools which will have an immediate effect over the year.

If you look at “The Jordan Response Plan” – what the Jordanians believe is needed to respond to the refugee crisis – in 2015/2016 that was 36% funded. In 2016/2017 it is about 60% funded. In international terms, in terms of the scale of most international responses to humanitarian appeals it is almost unprecedented.

QFollowing last year’s business delegation led by Sajid Javid there was a great deal of interest expressed in regards to UK investment into Jordan. Javid stated that “by building greater business connections and strengthening the economic ties between our two countries we can hope to bring economic and national security.” In your opinion, what does Jordan have in terms of investment opportunities and how can UK investors help bring about national and economic security?

EO: I think there are 2 areas to look at, one is the Jordanian market. For example, there is a very deep commitment here because the country is so energy challenged, to build the renewable energy provision and to go from almost nothing to 20% of their energy requirements being met from renewable energy by 2020 and they are more or less on track to do that. There is a lot of investment going into techs, the type of sun and dust here is uniquely effective in terms of generating energy.

In addition, financial services are a niche market in Jordan, pharmaceuticals, business services, and legal. This brings me to my second point, Jordan not just as a national market, but Jordan as a regional center. Jordan is one of the few areas in this region where it is possible to easily operate, it has a good standard of living, good utilities, good service provision and so forth. There are a number of companies which have relocated here to do both the front and back office operations as you have well educated Arabic speaking staff. The other area I should mention is medical. There is a big medical sector partly for Jordanians but also as providing a regional service.

QThe U.K. backed Jordan recently in regards to the E.U. and Made In Jordan products, relaxing some of the restrictions so that Jordanian products could be more easily sold into the E.U., are there opportunities there in terms of value addition?

EO: We worked very hard with the Jordanians and the E.U. in Brussels to agree last summer to arrangements whereby Jordanian products would be able to enter E.U. markets essentially under the same conditions as the least developed countries. This makes it easier for Jordanian exporters to meet E.U. requirements, though it will take time for that offering to build up. For example, there is a Syrian company just outside of Amman that the Development Secretary visited when she was here last week which employs 168 Jordanian workers and 82 Syrian, this mix of the two is win/win. It is enabling Syrian refugees to put back into the Jordanian economy, but also in this case giving 168 jobs to Jordanian workers

QHow is the business environment here in Jordan? Has it been a largely positive experience for UK investors?

EO: There are challenges. It is very important that any British company coming here should do their due diligence first and should come with an eye not only looking over the next two years, but looking at the next 10. It is almost certain that when reconstruction comes to Syria and Iraq, it is going to be a very large task and there will be huge opportunities for companies to come and take advantage of those business opportunities.

We know from historical experience that when it happens, it happens very fast. It is important that companies pre-position themselves so they are ready to take advantage when the time comes. I think one of the things the British companies need to do is understand how to pre-position themselves and what are the main areas. Aqaba for example is thinking how can it prepare itself with its special economic zone to be the entrepôt through which supplies come in and can then go overland to Syria or to Iraq.

QIn regards to the King’s vision, Aqaba is a big part of that vision and having this special economic zone is very important to him. He is also the best ambassador this country could possibly have. Do you have any comments in regards to his work in promoting Jordan?

EO: [His Majesty] is the leader of this country; nobody could be more active than him in both the international stage and domestically in providing a lead through very difficult times. One of the reasons why so much international support has come in to Jordan is that we all very much uphold the country that [His Majesty] personifies and espouses. One that is inclusive, diverse, tolerant of beliefs and religions, and supportive of an educational system equipping the future generations.

QIn regards to the entire report as a whole, what is the lasting impression you would like the readers of this report to have about Jordan?

EO: You have here a country, which personifies in many ways what the future of the middle-east can be. Jordan is doing the right sort of things in terms of fighting extremism, developing a more inclusive and educated society, a country in which you can have a diverse life. You can go to Aqaba and pursue water sports, to Petra and see the extraordinary heritage, you can go to the castles in Al-Karak and see the history there. Jordan is where you can have a fulfilling and balanced experience which is also a great jumping off point for the region as a whole. There is a special emotional bond between Britain and Jordan, an instinctive welcome you don’t find everywhere in the world. Jordan is also held in a similar regard in the U.K. and we cannot take this for granted and we must continue to justify to the coming generations in both countries why that is the case. Travel advice makes clear there are the risks in this country, risks in the region as a whole, and risks in the U.K. and people need to factor that in whether they decide to visit. The vast majority of people have a wonderful fulfilling time, they have a rewarding business and professional experience, and the tourism is completely unique. Come and see it.