QCan you provide us with an overview of the current situation in Jordan?
OM: If Jordan had a better neighbourhood, with a quieter atmosphere and a more stable geopolitical situation, we would have achieved much more. Our geopolitical situation, and the geographic location, has created so many impediments.
We have survived to so many problems thanks to our model. We have been trained to be optimistic regardless of what is going on around us. As a matter of policy, we try to be as neutral as possible, not to get involved in things we might regret. Loyalty of Jordanians to the King is basic for us. The achievements of the Crown inspire everybody in the country. The social cohesion brings stability to the country. We don’t have political prisoners, we don`t have problems of that sort. Our model is very different to our neighbours’.
However, even as we move forward, we have regional problems. Most of our problems are not structural – our economy is stable. We have regional problems. Thus there are certain austerity measures that we have to undertake.
The two main borders (Syria and Iraq), represent most of our imports and exports (to them and through them). Both borders are closed. We have one port in the Red Sea that does not take us to the Mediterranean. We have closure around us. This makes us be creative and open new markets like East Africa via Aqaba. Our skilled labour forces are sent to the Gulf and they send remittances to Jordan. Tourism compensates exports (income of foreign currency to Jordan).
The biggest challenge that we face is the refugee crisis from Syria. We have had an increase of 20% of the population. This affects the economic growth of the country, which dropped from 3.6% to 2%. We have refugees from Palestine, Iraq and Syria and some other nationalities. We became experts in accommodating refugees. We have 700,000 registered refugees. The increase of water demand and other aspects are affected by this situation. These refugees are unable to go back to their countries because everything is destroyed.
We have been able to contain our foreign debt. Our budget deficit is at a point that is very safe.
Going back to the refugees, it´s not only consumption that they need, we have invested in services like health, education… to avoid a lost generation. 190,000 Syrian children (refugees) are in our schools, each one costs us 700 to 1000 USD. We have a tremendous pressure on our school infrastructure, to the point that we had to go back to the double shift (morning and afternoon). The London conference of last year was very important. We implemented our commitments to materialise the London Conference.
One of the most important points of that conference is that the EU has to help us in creating the right investments so that we are able to create the right jobs for Syrians. We designated 15 spots in Jordan to be special zones so the Europeans can invest in Jordan and the Jordanian exports to Europe increase. Investors have many incentives in Jordan.
QWhat is Jordan’s contribution to the stability of the region?
F.A.T: On the 29th March we have the Arab Summit. We lead the Arab World this year, so the summit will take place in Amman. So the King will be talking on behalf of the Arab World. With his wisdom, his moderation and his great stature all over the world, they listen to him. He is in a much better position than any other leader to lead in this critical moment. There will be a better representation of the Arab World this year. We know our limitations, but we will not deny any effort. We don’t believe in war and military actions. We believe in peace. Political resolutions mean compromises.
QHow important is Human Capital for FDI in Jordan?
F.A.T.: Having a very quick look on the Gulf, we see many Jordanians working there, not only in the private sector, but also in the public sector.
Jordanians are productive and politically disciplined. Human Capital is our most important value. Jordanians are highly educated and therefore Jordan stands out in sophisticated sectors such as renewable energies (solar and wind mainly). The renewable energy is a very important sector for us. We expect that by 2020, renewable energy will cover 30% of the electric needs in Jordan.
We are also creating many incentives to the IT sector so we won’t need to buy it from other countries.
Tourism is vital for us. Revenues from tourism have increased between 4-5% in the first two months of 2017. But yet, it has decreased because of the regional situation. However, Petra and the Dead Sea have become destinations by themselves. We are diversifying the offer within the sector. For instance, Medical Tourism is a very important category. The Dead Sea and the hot springs coming from the mountains. We have very famous doctors. Our hospitals are very good, especially in cardiology and cancer. Student tourism is another example. Many students come to Jordan to study from abroad. We have 36 universities, public and private. There is a good demand on this.
Q Thinking about the readers in the UK – what is the lasting impression you would like them to have about Jordan?
F.A.T.: We have deep historical relations with the UK. We have consistency on the political side. We have not been jumping from right to left. When we commit to something, we deliver. We believe in peaceful means as a matter of policy to resolve regional issues. The biggest manifestation of this is the peace treaty with Israel. Given our situation and our limitations (already mentioned); the level of achievements despite all of this explains the potential of Jordan.