Jordan at a glance
Full Name: Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Capital: Amman
Area: 89,206 sq km (34,442 sq miles)
Population(m): 6.5 (2013)      
Head of State: King Abdullah II
Currency: Jordanian Dinar (JD)
Religions:  92% Sunni Muslim, 4% Shiite Muslim, 4% Christian
Languages: Arabic (official) English (other)
International organisations: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Arab League, Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), International Monetary Fund (IMF), United Nations (UN), World Trade Organisation (WTO)

Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with representative government. The reigning monarch, King Abdullah II, is the head of state, the chief executive and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The king exercises his executive powers through the prime minister and the Council of Ministers, or cabinet. The cabinet, meanwhile, is responsible before the elected House of Deputies which, along with the senate, constitutes the legislative branch of the government. The judicial branch is an independent branch of the government.

Government changes

On 1 February, in response to large-scale street protests throughout Jordan, King Abdullah dismissed the cabinet and appointed a new prime minister.

On 9 February, Prime Minister Bakhit swore in a new 26-member cabinet.

The ministers of foreign affairs, interior and finance have retained their posts.

Government

The king’s decision to dissolve parliament in November 2009 was largely well-received. The legislature had been the target of allegations of corruption and was seen as self-serving rather than dedicated to the public interest.

A new electoral law announced in June has taken steps towards parliamentary reform, including enlarging the size of the legislature from 110 to 120 seats and increasing the quota of female members from six to 12. Among the new seats are four for the towns of Amman, Zarqa and Irbid, a concession to those who claimed the previous system was unfairly prejudiced against urban areas, where the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the country’s largest opposition party, is traditionally strongest.

The changes have not been enough to convince the IAF of the fairness of the system. On 30 July 2010, it declared it will not contest the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for November. “The government has no serious will for political reform,” said a party spokesperson.

The IAF, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, would have been the only party with any prospect of winning a fair proportion of the seats, but it is not as strong as it used to be. During the 1990s, it held almost half the seats in parliament, however, the lack of a coherent programme has since led to an erosion of its support. In elections in 2003, the IAF won less than 20 per cent of the seats, and, having boycotted the latest elections in 2007, the party has been riven with divisions over how closely it should be associated with Hamas in Gaza.

A new political parties law was introduced in early 2008 in an attempt to reduce the influence of family and tribal loyalties in parliamentary elections. The new rules resulted in the number of political parties falling from 36 to 12, but sources in the kingdom are pessimistic about the impact it will have on parliament’s composition.

King Abdullah is directly involved in the talks between Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas that began in Washington on 1 September 2010. Due to the location of Jordan and the significant number of different ethnic groups, the government knows that the wrong decisions could make it as politically unstable as some of its neighbours.

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Economy

Jordan’s strong trade links with countries both within the Middle East and the rest of the world has enabled the kingdom to enjoy sustained growth between 2005-2008, when gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the country averaged more than 7 per cent, despite the country lacking serious oil reserves.

The growth has been broadly based in the manufacturing, construction, real estate and services sectors.

Since his accession to the throne in 1999, King Abdullah has implemented significant economic reforms. These include facilitating trade, privatising state-owned companies and eliminating most fuel subsidies. This opening up of Jordan’s economy has been successful in stimulating economic growth by attracting foreign investment and creating new jobs.

Even amid the global recession, Jordan’s economy grew by 2.8 per cent in 2009, according to the IMF. However, this represented a significant deceleration. GDP growth fell by 5 percentage points in 2009 to 2.8 per cent, down from 7.8 per cent in 2008.

One of the main reasons for the slowdown was a 2.4 per cent drop in remittances in 2009. Remittances have accounted for about 20 per cent of Jordan’s GDP in recent years. But many Jordanian expatriates in the Gulf, particularly in the UAE, have suffered from job cuts during the economic downturn.

In addition to remittances, Jordan has strong economic links within the Middle East, especially with the GCC countries, through trade, tourism, grants, and capital flows. There is a strong correlation between Jordan’s GDP growth and growth in GCC member states, especially with regard to the output of the non-oil sector.

In 2009, non-oil growth declined significantly in some GCC countries, which in turn had a negative impact on Jordan’s economy.

Economists believe that it is important for Amman to reduce fiscal deficit in the coming years. This increased from -5.7 per cent in 2008 to -8.9 per cent in 2009.

Another potential problem for Jordan’s economy in coming years is its high debt level. Jordan’s total government debt was 66.1 per cent of GDP in 2009 and the IMF expects this to increase to 67.1 per cent by the end of this year.

In response to the recession, Jordan is executing several major infrastructure projects to attempt to stimulate the economy.

So far in 2010, remittance levels have stabilised and tourist arrivals have picked up. GDP growth is forecast to be 4.1 per cent this year, rising to 4.5 per cent in 2011.

As 2009 showed, Jordan’s economy is closely tied to the economies of other countries in the region, so it is important that it continues to reform and manage its economic policy carefully to reduce the impact of future external shocks.

Ratings

Standard & Poor’s

Local currency sovereign credit rating: BBB-

Jordan’s long-term foreign currency sovereign credit ratings : BB

Jordan’s short-term foreign currency sovereign credit ratings: B

Outlook: Stable

Moody’s

Baa3

Outlook: Stable

Banking and Finance

Jordan’s banking system has proven strong and resilient to the global financial crisis. The IMF attributes this to the Central Bank of Jordan’s (CBJ) prudent banking regulation and supervision and bank’s conservative funding policies helping to protect domestic banks from high exposure to the problems of the international banks.

A focus on banking reform has helped to improve the sector’s asset quality over recent years The CBJ insists that banks maintain high levels of capital. All banks are currently above the CBJ’s 12 per cent minimum capital requirement, with a sector average capital adequacy ratio of 19 per cent. As the economy improves, banks are expected to reap the benefits of robust credit policies and risk management functions maintained during the boom years.

Conservative policies allowed banks to increase liquidity to JD4.3bn ($6.1bn) in 2009, from JD1.4bn at the end of 2008. This compares with a pre-crisis average liquidity level of JD400m.

Deposits have held up well, increasing by 11 per cent to the end of 2009 over the previous year. This growth is attributed to the CBJ’s policy of permitting a relatively wide interest rate differential against the dollar in favour of the dinar. Foreign reserves at the central bank now exceed $11bn, compared with just $5bn three years ago.

Jordan has one of the Middle East’s largest banks in Arab Bank. In 2009, Arab Bank Group achieved pre-tax profit US $782.8 million; total assets reached US $50.6 billion. As well as being dominant in the Jordanian market, Arab Bank is active elsewhere in the Middle East.

The group has a series of wholly or partially owned subsidiaries in Jordan and in international markets, including Australia, Sudan, Syria and Tunisia. Arab Bank now has 181 branches in 11 countries, predominantly in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena).

Companies and Markets

The Amman Stock Exchange (ASE) is smaller than the exchanges in neighbouring financial centres. Both the Cairo and Alexandria Stock Exchange in Egypt and the Tadawul in Saudi Arabia are much larger by market capitalisation.

In January 2009, Jordan’s capital markets regulator approved an overhaul of the rules governing the stock exchange. Jordan Securities Commission (JSC) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US’ Financial Services Volunteer Corps (FSVC) to provide technical assistance on the project.

The regulator will prepare new legislation governing capital markets. The JSC said it wanted to introduce new trading practices and overhaul the IT infrastructure of the Amman Stock Exchange.

Earlier this year, construction work started on Amman’s new stock exchange building. The development will be built in the Arjan district of Amman, near the existing Amman Stock Exchange. The development will serve as the headquarters for the new stock exchange and several public and private financial institutions.

The project will also contain a regional training facility, which will be set up by the Jordan Securities Commission.

Once complete, the Jordanian government is hoping the centre will develop into a regional financial centre, aimed at securing further foreign investment into the country.

Jordan’s stock market offers no restrictions for foreign ownership or investment and, given its location, financial sources suggest the Jordan National Financial Centre could become the financial hub of the Levant region.  

Manufacturing

Manufacturing has benefited from the creation of qualifying industrial zones (QIZs) since 2000. The US agreed to allow tariff-free imports of Jordanian goods manufactured in a handful of QIZs provided that Israeli companies contributed to the creation of the products. The policy was quickly successful. Jordan’s exports to the US totalled just $6.9m in 1997. In 2002, exports had grown to $661m a year. The governments of both countries drew up a free trade agreement in 2002. A similar agreement with the European Union (EU) soon followed.

After peaking at $1.42bn in 2006, Jordanian exports to the US dropped to $866 million through the first 11 months of 2009. The value of Jordan’s exports began to decline in 2007 and has continued throughout the economic crisis.

Jordan’s main exports to the US include apparel, jewellery and machinery while imports include vehicles, machinery, aircraft, cereals and electrical and medical equipment.

The QIZs also face stiff competition from China in the textiles market. Even without tariff-free access to the US, China can still supply textiles in greater quantities and at cheaper prices than is possible for Jordanian producers.

Natural Resources

Jordan has limited natural resources. The country is water-poor and most of its energy requirements are met by imports. Its major competitive advantage is the production of agricultural fertilisers.

Population growth and reduced harvests are expected to increase demand significantly in the coming years.

The two leading fertiliser producers are the Jordan Phosphate Mines Company (JPMC) and the Arab Potash Company (APC).

The sale of fertiliser is linked to food production and in 2009 sales dropped 1.6 per cent as a result of the economic downturn.

Until now, the ports infrastructure has put limits on the growth of the country’s fertiliser industry. JPMC and APC are planning to overcome this problem by forming a joint-venture, the Jordan Industrial Ports Company (JIPC), to rehabilitate the existing jetty at Aqaba and adding a new berth.

In addition, JPMC is investing $220m to build a new phosphate port. JPMC operates in three mining locations across the central and southern parts of Jordan. The company produces up to 7 million tonnes a year of phosphate rock, making it the world’s sixth largest producer and the second largest exporter.

The downturn caused JPMC’s revenues to drop by 50 per cent from $1.2bn in 2008 to $46m and net profit fell from $337m to $131m.

APC extracts potash from the Dead Sea, which is used to produce plant fertilisers. Through its partnership with JPMC on the Aqaba port expansion project, APC’s share of the investment will provide it with two extra berths and the opportunity to expand to a third.

APC also suffered from the effects of the global recession. Production fell to 1.2 million tonnes in 2009 from 2 million tonnes in 2008.

The Maan area of Jordan has large deposits of silica with a purity of around 98 per cent. The Maan Development Company (MDC) is currently in final negotiations with Kuwait’s Specialised Glass Industries Group (SGI Group) about the construction of a $200m glass factory at the Maan Development Area in southern Jordan.

The SGI Group is also constructing a $50m glass coating factory at Maan with a capacity of 5.5 million square metres. The facility is currently at the machine assembly stage and is due to start production in July. The silica for both glass factories will come from a mine owned by the MDC. The Maan area of Jordan has large deposits of silica with a purity of around 98 per cent.

Telecoms & IT

Lacking the oil resources of most of its neighbours, the Kingdom has prioritised investment in the education and training of young Jordanians, particularly in the fields of engineering and technology. This has been of significant benefit to the information and technology sector.

Jordan was the first country in the Arab world to have a fully liberalised telecommunications market. Since 2002, Jordan’s Information and communications technology (ICT) industry has ranked among the top three sectors for the highest annual foreign direct investment (FDI). Comprising three network providers Orange, Umniah and Zain, more than $1bn has been invested by private investors into the industry during the past 10 years. Revenues jumped from $70m in 2003 to more than $770m in 2006, according to the Jordan investment board.

The ICT sector currently accounts for about 14 per cent of Jordan’s gross domestic product, and employs 2.5 million people. The sector is now at the heart of the government’s development strategy.

Amman recently announced that the ICT Ministry is to rewrite the country’s Telecoms law ensuring it can deliver this goal.

Jordan’s drive to become a regional IT hub is also set to deliver some significant investments in infrastructure projects as data and technology firms seek to build their resources in the region.

In 2007, the government announced plans create a special economic zone in the north of the country near Irbid and the border with Syria. The new development will provide IT companies with as yet unspecified tax cuts and access to a purpose-built technical infrastructure. Many IT companies currently base their operations in the smarter suburbs of Amman because they are the only places in the country that are guaranteed to have access to a good fixed-line telecoms network. If the government can create a place outside the capital with a reliable infrastructure, many IT businesses would relocate even if they only wanted to do so to reduce their office costs.

Tourism

Tourism is one of the most important sectors of Jordan’s economy. The sector is one of the Jordan’s largest private sector employers and has consistently contributed approximately 10 per cent of the kingdom’s GDP in recent years.

Ministry of Tourism statistics show that revenue generated by the tourism sector grew by more than 26 per cent in the first seven months of 2010, reaching JD1.4bn, up from JD1.1bn for the same period of 2009.

The Ministry’s figures also showed that over 4.8 million tourists visited the kingdom during January to July this year, a 23 per cent increase from 2009 when 3.9 million visitors entered the country.

Major tourist attractions include Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985, Jordan River, Mount Nebo, roman ruins at Umm Qais and the Dead sea.

Power

Experts have warned that the kingdom faces severe water and energy shortages in the coming years. Jordan needs to add about 300MW of power capacity every 12-18 months and demand for energy is growing 5-6 per cent annually. Experts reckon that currently 99 per cent of the country’s energy is imported.

Energy imports cost the state about $3.5bn a year, equivalent to some 25 per cent of the national budget.

The government aims to cut the country’s dependence on energy imports to 60 per cent by 2020, with 40 per cent provided from indigenous sources of fuel.

Jordan is preparing to undertake a major programme of public-private partnership (PPP) projects in the energy, water and transport sectors in an attempt to cut the burden of infrastructure spending.

About $30bn-worth of infrastructure schemes are planned for the next 35 years. The kingdom sees attracting foreign investors as crucial to the success of the projects. Half of the investment will be directed towards the energy sector.

French company Areva and the UK/Australian Rio Tinto have entered into agreements with the Jordanian Nuclear Energy Commission, Jordan Energy Resources Incorporation and the Royal Jordanian Geographic Centre to extract and mine uranium. The Jordanian government has previously estimated its conventional uranium reserves at 140,000 tonnes. Uranium will be used for both a planned domestic nuclear programme and for export. Locally produced uranium will be enriched overseas under contract and then shipped back to Jordan for use in its proposed power reactors.

In terms of atomic power infrastructure, a 1,000MW nuclear power plant will be built in the southern part of Aqaba. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2013. The project aims to generate electricity at competitive prices using locally produced uranium reserves. The $4.5bn financing required to complete the programme is expected to be made up of 30 per cent private investment. The process to hire a developer is under way and the winner is expected to be announced within a year.

Water

Jordan’s energy projects are also intended to help its water supply challenges. It is the fourth driest country in the world, but has to supply drinking water for a population that is expanding by 200,000 a year. The Jordan Red Sea Project hopes to address the country’s water shortage.

The project involves desalinating water from the Red Sea and pumping it through 300km of pipelines to the majority of the population, which sits 1,000 metres above sea level.

Carried out over five phases, work on the Jordan Red Sea Project is expected to continue until 2045, with phase one due to start next year. Some 29 expressions of interest (EOI) were submitted in February 2010 and a shortlist is expected to be announced before the end of 2010.

Oil Shales

To further develop domestic sources of energy, the government has signed contracts with four companies to conduct feasibility studies to produce oil from shales in Al-Lajoon and Attarat Um al-Ghadran.

Oil shale is expected to contribute 14 per cent of the country’s energy requirements by 2020 and also to be used to produce crude oil.

Transport

Amman’s $30bn-worth of planned infrastructure schemes also include transport schemes. Over the next 30 years, $5bn has been earmarked for ambitious light rail, public transport and national rail transport schemes. Under phase one, a 951km freight rail network will connect the main industrial cities in Jordan. Later stages will see the rail line expanded to 1,740km and link the six GCC states with Europe through a commodity-based transport corridor.

The government will build the infrastructure, which is valued at $2.2bn. A private operator will provide management and maintenance services worth $59m in 2015, rising to $282m by 2050. Design and construction is due to begin next year.

As part of the government’s portfolio of transport projects, a study is under way to assess the financial feasibility of building a 24km passenger-based rail system between Amman and Zarqa.

Zarqa is a densely populated city and key industrial centre and the $370m project would go some way to meeting the demand for public transportation from Amman. Extensive feasibility, as well as technical, engineering, legal and financial studies are required to bring each of the $30bn-worth of projects from a mere concept and onto the various developmental stages, up until full operation.

Construction

With a view to transform Aqaba into a business hub, Aqaba Development Company (ADC) is planning to construct a port in the southern industrial area of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone (ASEZ) to replace the existing Main Port of Aqaba.

The port will be constructed on an 375 square kilometres (sq km) area of land and will offer global investment opportunities in a world class business environment that include tourism and recreational services, professional services, multi-modal logistics, value-added industries and light manufacturing. The project is worth $350 million.

Earlier this year, ADC decided to develop the Aqaba New Port project on a public-private partnership basis. The completion date of the new port is end of 2012.

Once the new project is completed, ADC will hand over the existing port site to UAE-based Al-Maabar, which has plans to build the Marsa Zayed real estate project there.

Work is due to start this year on the first phase of the $10bn Marsa Zayed waterfront development. The 3.2 million sq m Marsa Zayed is the largest project in Jordan’s history and will be completed in two phases. 

The $200m first phase of the project includes developing a 300,000-square-metre-site, which comprises a 33-storey mixed-use tower, a social gathering space for 2,000 people, 146 townhouses, 263 apartments, the first of three marinas and associated infrastructure. The first phase is scheduled for completion in the final quarter of 2014.

The second phase includes developing the final 1.2 million sq m and will not commence until the land around Aqaba Port is handed over to Al-Maabar in 2017. The estimated completion date for the entire Marsa Zayed project is 2035.