Interivew: Awni Rushoud
What sort of changes were involved in the transition from the Jordan Investment Board to the new Investment Commission?
AWNI RUSHOUD: The major change is that we have unified various investment divisions – including the Jordan Investment Board, the development zones and the promotion department of the Jordan Enterprise Development Corporation –and wrapped them all into the new Investment Commission. The streamlining of these organisations should make our activities more transparent to foreign investors, which in turn should pique their interest in investing here.
Another major change will be a faster investment approval process, which is key to investors’ decision-making in general. When investors take risks in foreign countries, they are looking for transparency and a level playing field. We want to simplify the entire process and make Jordan more investor friendly. It is important for investors to know basic facts and not buy into stereotypes. They must know that they can own 100% of their investments, that they will have total ability to repatriate all capital from investment projects, and that the odds are not stacked against them. We must also work hard to ensure investors of the strength of our institutions, especially the legal framework.
Now that the new investment law is in place, how do you see Jordan’s inward investment changing?
RUSHOUD: We are optimistic that the new investment law will enhance opportunities to invest in the kingdom. Already, 2013 was a good year for investment, which had a major impact on GDP growth. We have seen exports increase by 1-9%, and foreign direct investment (FDI) rise by 20%, from JD1.65bn ($2.33bn) to JD1.93bn ($2.72bn). Along with this general rise, it is important to note the high degree of value-added investments in the service industries.
The largest investors into Jordan over 2013 came from Syria, Iraq and the US. This can be seen as a natural consequence of simmering tensions and upheavals from our neighbours, something we have seen before at different times in our history. Jordan is often viewed as an oasis of peace in an unstable region.
Moving into 2014 and beyond, I am optimistic that FDI will continue on a path of steady growth. We will be shifting our efforts away from traditional markets like the US and toward newer and more dynamic markets like China and South Korea. We will also focus more attention on the EU, as we believe there is greater potential to enhance investment ties and prospects.
Which sectors in Jordan are the most attractive to foreign investors, both now and going forward?
RUSHOUD: The new investment law should enhance prospects for all sectors, and help us diversify away from traditional ones such as tourism and health care, where pharmaceuticals make up 40% of our exports.
It is no secret that, apart from oil shale, Jordan is starved of natural resources, so there has been a sharper focus on renewable energy, especially solar. Jordan has about 300 days of sunlight a year, and we are looking to diversify our energy mix with a new roadmap laid out by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources. We have become too dependent on liquefied natural gas from Egypt, which has proven harmful to our national debt given the unpredictability of supply. This is part of the reason a pipeline from Iraq is being built, which should secure us 20,000 barrels per day of crude. Fostering an alternative energy culture will help ease our long-term energy concerns. It is hoped that in time up to 20% of our energy can come from renewable sources. Others hope for even more, but the important thing is to capitalise on this wave now, and not later.
We are also seeing a renaissance in IT. Jordan, though only 2% of the MENA population, is the source of more than 60% of digital content in Arabic. There is also great potential in gaming and automation, which should help propel us towards a services-based economy. Jordan is revered for having the region’s brightest human capital. This bodes well for building a knowledge economy.
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