Rising international competition and growing domestic pressure from a young workforce has led Jordan’s leadership to take significant economic policy measures to enhance the country’s investment environment. Jordan is a small country with limited natural resources, which is why a talented workforce is paramount to attracting investment, says Amer Hadidi, Jordan’s trade and industry minister.

But with unemployment at 28.3% for 15- to 24-year-olds, Mr Hadidi recognises that there needs to be a more focused approach to creating quality jobs to satisfy the growing number of young people entering the job market. “The links between employment and economic policies need to be strengthened and we need to ensure that the pace of economic growth is matched with the pace of job creation,” he says.

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Focus on skills

The ministry of labour is working on training Jordanians in the required skills for growth sectors, such as construction and tourism, to gradually replace migrant labour with Jordan’s domestic workforce. “Vocational training structures remain fairly weak, and collaboration between the public and private sector in this regard has also lagged, which has widened the gap between the private sector and the training system,” says Mr Hadidi.

Increased levels of foreign investment can also help in terms of knowledge transfer. “Working with multinational companies has helped Jordanian companies enhance their technical, managerial and marketing skills, and upgrade and extend the scope of transport and financial services in the country,” he says.

Other business reforms include the implementation of stronger trademark and copyright laws, the reduction of import tariffs, the privatisation of state-owned enterprises and large infrastructure projects, as well as the establishment of a number of free zones in key locations throughout the country. This includes the creation of the Aqaba special economic zone, established in 2001 as a private sector-led port city masterplan development, which has exceeded targets so far by 133%, with total investments reaching approximately $8bn.

Building institutional relationships that allow for free trade and greater market access have also contributed to the growth of the Jordanian economy, says Mr Hadidi. In 2007, GDP grew by 12.3%, while per capita GDP rose by 9.8%.

“We firmly believe in the importance of abolishing all tariff and quantitative restrictions on the movement of goods because it is the only way to eliminate consumption and production distortions, leading to an efficient allocation of goods and services,” says Mr Hadidi.

To this effect, Jordan signed a number of bilateral and multilateral agreements, including an association agreement with the EU, and gained membership to the World Trade Organization in 2000. “These agreements are intended to shift Jordan’s economy from a state of import substitution and dependence on foreign aid, to one of export orientation and liberalisation,” says Mr Hadidi.

And the minister’s ambitions will not be swayed despite the current global economic downturn. “While the impact of this economic slowdown is being felt across global markets, it will not negate our commitment to global trade and to forging closer economic ties with regional and international partners,” he says.

CURRICULUM VITAE

AMER HADIDI

2007Government of Jordan

Minister of industry and trade

2005Government of Jordan

Secretary-general of the ministry of transport

2005Public Sector Reform Administration

Executive director

2003Government of Jordan

Senior advisor to minister of industry and trade