(MENAFN - Jordan Times) Jordan Investment Board (JIB) is working to attract investments from regional markets hit by instability, JIB acting chief executive officer Awni Rushoud said.
In an interview with The Jordan Times, he pointed out that a group of Iraqi investors shifted a planned project to establish a medical university at a cost of JD70 million from unrest-hit Syria to Jordan, noting that the investors preferred to move to the Kingdom not only due to stability and security factors but also to benefit from the available skilled human resources.
According to Rushoud, the business environment in the country is attractive to investors for several reasons, among them the free trade agreements Jordan has signed with a number of countries.
He indicated that the JIB expects the volume of investments to exceed JD1.5 billion this year, coming mainly from Gulf Arab countries and projects moving from Syria.
"I'm very optimistic about this year as only in the first two months we approved investments worth of JD215 million," he said, adding that so far this year ventures valued at JD450 million have applied to benefit from investment incentives law.
In 2011, those that benefited from the law were JD1.05 billion, which is a 34 per cent drop from the previous year, Rushoud said.
He attributed the decline in investments to various external factors such as the repercussions of the global economic downturn, the debt crisis in the eurozone and the political turmoil in the Middle East.
"General pessimism towards the Middle East has pushed investors either to cancel or delay their projects," Rushoud elaborated.
Certain domestic factors can also be blamed for the drop in investments, he said, mentioning the drop of Jordan's ranking in international business reports, and the credit rating of the country as well as the fact that the debt ratio to the gross domestic product has increased.
Limited financial allocations for JIB promotion campaigns have also affected the inflow of investments, he added.
Rushoud noted that the medical tourism tops the list of the board's priorities to attract investments, followed by renewable energy, ICT, mineral and natural resources, industries and agriculture.
Asked on whether the energy sector should be JIB's top priority in light of the energy difficulties due to cut off of natural gas supply from Egypt, he replied that the ranking of priorities is dynamic that can be set according to Jordan's needs and it is also linked to the Kingdom's comparative advantage.
"The government has recently signed an agreement to a solar energy project in Tafileh. So the renewable energy is important to JIB," he said.
The JIB acting chief indicated that a Qatari business delegation has recently held talks with officials in Amman to discuss potential cooperation in the field of supplying Jordan with natural gas from the Gulf nation.
There are initial talks to form a consortium of companies from both countries to supply Jordan with reliable and sustainable source of gas, the JIB acting chief said.
With the oil shale we have, in 10 to 15 years, this will change Jordan's economic image as we hope to reach self-independence.
When there is a monopoly in natural resource it causes distortion, he said referring to phosphate.
Multiple agencies handling investments
Rushoud commended the recent government decision to merge several public organisations in charge of handling investment in one entity, saying this will facilitate the inflow of investments and cut down bureaucratic barriers.
However, he stressed that the JIB should be the sole entity to handle the investment file, emphasising that it should also report directly to the prime minister in order to give the board more authority on monitoring and promoting foreign direct investments.
"Sometimes we cannot solve difficulties facing an investor because some problems have to do with other government agencies, for example, municipalities, customs department or ministries," he elaborated.
Rushoud explained that the board also checks on the authenticity of potential investors to ensure whether the investments are true and real.
"We make sure the companies that propose to implement projects in Jordan are credible," he said, mentioning as an example, reports that a real estate Korean company came to Jordan and held talks with high ranking officials to carry out a multibillion medical facility.
But after checking the authenticity of the company in cooperation with Korean authorities and the Jordanian embassy in Seoul, the JIB found out that the network of the firm is limited to around 3 million only, he said, adding that the firm also claimed it had major investments in China, but no projects were found.
The strategy of JIB focuses on value added projects that can offer jobs to Jordanians in addition to projects to be carried out in governorates and remote areas.