EU accord opens door for Jordan | Editor's Choice | Ammon News


EU accord opens door for Jordan


[5/30/2017 7:00:50 AM]

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At a conference in London last year, Jordan made a deal with international donors: it would issue tens of thousands of work permits to Syrian refugees in return for aid from — and most importantly, easier market access to — the EU.

The scheme to provide international help to Jordan, which has been burdened with a large population of Syrian refugees, is dubbed the “Jordan compact”. It was welcomed in the EU, which is keen to institute measures that might help to stem the flow of refugees to Europe.

Jordan, meanwhile, wants to explore the benefits of the EU’s offer to lower the threshold on “rules of origin”, effectively lowering tariffs that the EU charges on a range of Jordanian-made goods.

Amman hopes this would provide an inducement for European companies to invest in Jordan’s 18 industrial zones and “development” areas where factories manufacture goods for export. With new jobs being created, Jordan hopes Syrian refugees will be a source of surplus labour rather than competition with native Jordanians for scarce jobs.

“The idea of trying to turn the challenge of refugees into an economic opportunity is based on the protracted nature of the crisis,” says Imad Fakhoury, Jordan’s minister of planning and international co-operation. “It’s based on our philosophy that this can happen if it complements Jordanian job creation and does not displace it.”

As of May 1, Jordan had 659,000 Syrians officially registered as refugees with the UN, and a total of more than 1m Syrians living within its borders, including those who are not officially registered.

Most of the Syrians are not living in refugee camps, but cheek-by-jowl with Jordanians in cities and towns. The influx has been a burden on local services and created friction with locals over scarce jobs. Jordan’s unemployment rate in 2016 stood at 15 per cent.


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The war in Syria has also brought havoc to Jordan’s traditional trading routes, closing the borders and hastening manufacturers’ search for new export markets in the EU.

A year after the London conference on the Jordan compact, Jordan says it has issued some 49,000 work permits for Syrians.

“Every application of a Syrian refugee gets accepted because of agreements with the EU,” says Abdullah Alhares, marketing and sales department head of Sigma, a detergent company.

The harder part, for Jordan, has been attracting investors who want to export to the EU. Of the work permits given to Syrians over the past year, says Mr Fakhoury, only “a few hundred, not more” are inside the industrial zones where Jordan wants to see jobs created.

“If this Jordan compact is unbalanced, it will crash,” says Mr Fakhoury. “We need a win-win for the Jordanian economy, donors and Syrian refugees.”

According to Mr Fakhoury, just one company hiring refugees has managed to crack the EU market and is exporting goods to Cyprus and Spain. However, he adds, “it’s just the beginning.”

The UK, Dutch and German governments are offering Jordan assistance in getting its goods ready to export and matching them with buyers.

* Financial Times

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