Interview: Montaser Oklah Al Zoubi

What message does the creation of the JIC send to potential foreign investors?

MONTASER OKLAH AL ZOUBI: The main message is that the JIC will cut red tape. It will bring a higher level of responsiveness by reducing the number of steps and time needed to respond to investors’ needs. This is done through the newly created Investment Window, which serves as a one-stop shop for all investment-related procedures. Jordan’s investment legislation has been reformed, giving the Investment Window more authority to grant licences and approvals. The key sectors on which the JIC will initially focus are manufacturing, health care, agriculture and tourism. These will be expanded to include energy and transport towards the end of the third quarter of 2015.

What are the key takeaways that the Investment Window will bring for foreign investors?

AL ZOUBI: The Investment Window is the culmination of reinvigorated efforts by the JIC and the newly enacted Investment Law. A key change is that we have separated services for existing investors from those for new investors, as each has a distinct process for obtaining permits and licences. The existing investor segment offers services that are needed on a regular basis, such as worker visas, vocational certificates and construction permits. A quicker and more transparent process for obtaining these is realised in certain components of the new Investment Law.

For new investors, we have set up a separate floor at the JIC that houses delegates from all state entities involved in issuing approvals for the investment process, such as the Ministries of Health, Labour and Interior, as well as the Greater Amman Municipality. By law, these delegates have the ability to offer approvals for licences on behalf of their entities. If an investment warrants the approval of a particular inter-governmental committee outside the JIC, the representative is responsible for securing the approval within 30 days, the only exception being if specific regulations indicate the necessary time for processing approvals – for example, certain approvals by the Food and Drug Administration regarding new medicines can take several months or years.

From which regions are you targeting investors for foreign direct investment?

AL ZOUBI: First, one must note that regional turbulence has created a unique set of circumstances that is largely outside the kingdom’s control. In the short term, therefore, we are targeting investors who have recently relocated as a result of conflict in their home country, mainly Syrians and Iraqis. We see these individuals as well-suited targets due to their firm understanding of Jordan’s investment landscape.

For the medium and long term, we are in the process of updating our investment promotion strategy, which will ultimately target Jordanian expatriates in Europe, the US and the Gulf. Among European investors, we have identified the Italians and the French as most interested in investing in the kingdom. With the US, our deep-rooted strategic and economic relationship presents a clear incentive to attract its investors. East Asia, especially China, has an increasingly large footprint in Jordan, and we have been contacted by Asian firms involved in transport, manufacturing and energy. The JIC has also been receiving requests to set up industrial zones specifically for Chinese industries.

We intend to implement our investment promotion strategy, not through generic techniques, but by targeting specific enterprises and sectors. We have identified several sectors where the kingdom has a comparative advantage, such as renewable energy and mining, both of which have a record of success in attracting international interest and securing foreign investment. Last, we will work with an international consulting firm to implement promotional activities and identify which types of firms we should court.