Jordan seeks a ‘fair’ share of China investments (The Jordan Times)

By Omar Obeidat , Dana Al Emam – Sep 05,2015 – Last updated at Sep 05,2015

Jordan Investment Commission President Montaser Oqlah speaks to The Jordan Times in a recent interview (Photo by Osama Aqarbeh)

AMMAN — Jordan seeks to draw a fair share of investments from China, which is expected to become the world’s biggest overseas investor by the end of this decade, a senior official said.

In an interview with The Jordan Times, Jordan Investment Commission (JIC) President Montaser Oqlah described the volume of Chinese investments in the Kingdom as still below expectations, indicating that Jordan is pinning hopes on the 2nd China-Arab States Expo, which will be held in Yinchuan City September 10-13, to showcase to Chinese private and public institutions the investment opportunities available in the Kingdom.

“We look at China as a priority to attract foreign direct investments,” Oqlah said, adding that China is among the leading countries in investment outflows and that Jordan seeks a “fair” share of the investments.

The China-Arab States Expo

On the participation of Jordan in the upcoming business event, the JIC chief said there would be an effective participation by Jordanian public and private sectors to boost economic cooperation between the two countries.

Jordan has prepared two large pavilions at the exhibition, he said, explaining that an “iconic” one will be to provide cultural, social and economic information on the Kingdom, while the other is commercial and is dedicated for 41 Jordanian firms that will showcase their products.

“We are very optimistic about this participation as it will result in an increase in economic cooperation between Jordanian and Chinese firms,” he said, noting that the expo will also see three forums on Jordan.

An economic Jordanian-Chinese forum will be organised , through which the two countries will sign a number of agreements in various fields.

Another forum will be on tourism, led by the Jordan Tourism Board, to provide information on Jordan’s attractions and promote the Kingdom to Chinese holidaymakers in a bid to attract the largest possible number of tourists.

The third forum, Oqlah said, will be on investment as the commission will outline to the Chinese private and public sectors the investment opportunities available and why to invest in Jordan.

New approach

The official said a new investment approach will be launched next year based on targeted promotions.

Its main pillar, he explained, is that when an investment priority is identified, it would be promoted among investors in the same field, adding that each area in Jordan has a relative advantage for business and would be promoted accordingly.

For example, Maan is the best home for solar energy projects; Irbid is distinguished for its medical care and information technology capabilities, in addition to real estate; Ajloun for tourism; and Mafraq for renewable energy and medium and heavy industries.

“We will promote these opportunities by targeting specific investors who are most likely to find these businesses lucrative,” he added.

The strategy also entails offering tax incentives to investors who carry out projects in the targeted areas, he said, indicating the new approach will be finalised by the end of this year.

Investment window

The commission is currently working on increasing the efficiency of its one-stop-shop investment window to further encourage incoming projects in Jordan by finalising investment proposals in the shortest time.

“The window has a pivotal and fundamental role in minimising red tape and additional cost due to delays in processing paperwork. There are serious government efforts to make investment-related procedures in Jordan faster and more efficient,” Oqlah said.

The window is supposed to either issue approvals and permits for investment projects, or by facilitating these with concerned public agencies, he added, explaining that it currently has 13 commissioners from various public agencies, 10 of whom have the authority to issue permits on the spot, while permits and approvals of the remaining three bodies (the Greater Amman Municipality and the ministries of municipalities and health) are issued by legal and technical committees.
The JIC is currently working on finding a method to enable these representatives to work as a link between the window and the committees by personally presenting the case to the concerned panels and getting back to the investor immediately.

“The long-term solution to this is working with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to amend the Cities and Villages Law in order to authorise representatives of the ministry and GAM at the investment window to issue approvals and permits for investment projects that meet the standards.”

He expected the law to be amended by the first half of 2016, adding that the window, which currently handles up to 40 per cent of paperwork of investment projects, to fully operate in the second half of 2016

Regional turmoil

Asked if Jordan has succeeded in promoting itself as a safe and stable destination for investments in a troubled region, the JIC chief said things could have been done better.

He said that Jordan “maximised the cost of the regional situation and minimised the benefits”.

“We maximised costs by opening our doors for large numbers of refugees with a heavy price, as the international community is undertaking only 30 per cent of the cost. On the other hand, we minimised the benefits by adopting very strict security measures when it comes to legalising the presence and the residency of Syrian and Iraqi investors in Jordan, which has prompted many of them to leave the country.

“I’m not saying what security agencies did was wrong. We were in a dilemma because our security is our biggest asset,” Oqlah said.

Security forces are now maintaining the delicate balance between security concerns and facilitating procedures for Syrian and Iraqi investors.

“Now we are getting a better share of the investments from these businesspeople,” he said, noting that many investors who left the Kingdom have returned to do businesses.

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