Interview with Eng. Ahmad Halaiqah, General Manager, Jordan Free and Development Zones Group
I N T E R V I E W
Alongside the government, your group seeks to boost efficiency in the private sector. How do you pursue this aim?
Historically speaking, the free zones were developed and managed by the government. But now the government sees the private sector as the engine of growth for economic and investment activities. The private sector is taking a lead role in the development of Jordan, and our policy is to accommodate this. When we look at the free zones and development zones, there are a lot of opportunities for the private sector. There are both public and private free zones, which means there are private companies that can enjoy the privileges of working within a free zone. Investments by the private sector in these zones are responsible for job creation, exports and many other economic advantages.
We have industrial, logistics and service delivery projects underway within the zones, and we want the private sector to be our partner in developing even larger projects. The future within these zones, we believe, lies in cooperation and partnerships between the public and the private sectors.
The existing group is the result of a recent merger between the Jordan Development Zones Company and the Jordanian Free Zones Corporation. How can you combine the expertise of both for greater efficiency?
After working with investment zones for more than ten years, my focus is to create a more streamlined environment within the free zones. We want to minimise bureaucracy and provide e-services. We want to develop an environment conducive to healthy business. We want investors to enter the free zones and enjoy the scenery, the landscape and the entertainment centres. All in all, they must form a friendly, attractive business environment. We hope that the new Free Zone at Queen Alia International Airport will meet these requirements.
This new zone is set to be a large project. Could you give us an overview of it?
It will be close to one million square metres on completion, and a very modern concept. There are different business options within it that include storage, industry, banks, insurance, and financial services. It will accommodate office parks and also conference facilities. We are now in the final stage of development and we hope that this year it will become fully operational. The fact that the free zone is next to the airport makes it advantageous for any company, especially logistics ones. It is also adjacent to the major road that travels straight to the centre of Amman, across the country and into neighbouring countries. It isn’t committed to a specific sector: industries like pharmaceuticals, ICT, logistics and others will benefit greatly from working there.
How important is the location and infrastructure of the zones in terms of connecting the businesses and industries within it to domestic and international markets?
We are committed to providing world-class infrastructure within the zones, and geographically we are also a hub. We are connected to Asia, Africa, and Europe. Because of our unique location, we can play a significant role in international trade. Another factor is our political stability, which makes us very attractive. Given the political instability in Syria and Iraq, we can become a reconstruction base for them.
Having multiple free-trade agreements with the US and the EU is another advantage; these have, traditionally, been our greatest markets. The African and Asian markets are very important for us now, and we believe that our future focus could be on these two continents. The Gulf countries are also part of the Greater Arab Free Trade Area with Jordan. By establishing their businesses in Jordan, investors can easily carry out business in the region as well.
Jordan faces many challenges, including unemployment, yet it has a highly-educated, tech-savvy population. How do the free trade zones help to create jobs?
Unemployment has been a major challenge for the government, and it is true that Jordan is known for quality labour and high levels of education. Our workforce is renowned in certain technical sectors such as engineering and medicine.
Investors who come here must have access to these skilled labourers, but they must also play a role in decreasing unemployment levels among unskilled labourers. We are looking for investors who can offer the most benefit to Jordan in areas that include employment, production and technology transfer. At our free zones, we have almost 20,000 workers. The new free zone at the airport and others we have planned will provide a lot more job opportunities.
The kingdom’s economy has been resilient and able to grow despite the problems it has faced in the past few years. However, foreign investment remains crucial for Jordan. What would you say to investors who are considering coming to Jordan?
The fact is that currently we are surrounded by zones in conflict. However, Jordan has always maintained its stability and peace. Over the years, this has made us stronger. I would like to highlight that the key factor that any company would enjoy here is safety. Investors will also enjoy our transparency, infrastructure and the many incentives provided by the government. I believe any company that sees the new free zones will realise that we would make very worthwhile partners. We are experienced and provide world-class services within the free zones and throughout Jordan.