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French Version

Jordan-Palestinian trade looks for better times

DESPITE THE ups and downs in Jordanian-Palestinian relations over the past few years, they are still exceptional. Jordanians and Palestinians are linked politically, economically and socially.

DESPITE THE ups and downs in Jordanian-Palestinian relations over the past few years, they are still exceptional. Jordanians and Palestinians are linked politically, economically and socially.

But economic relations between the two countries have deteriorated because of the Israeli occupation. For more than four decades, Palestinians relied heavily on Jordanian exports/markets to fulfill their needs of food and other essential goods. This, unfortunately, was subject to the political situation in the region and the Israeli occupation in particular. Statistics show the trade volume between Jordan and Palestine declined rapidly this year by JD 5 million to JD 11.7 million. Trade over the banks of the Jordan River also come to a near standstill because of Israelís continuing hindrance of the flow of Jordanian and Palestinian products.

Criticism was also heard from Palestinian officials over unjustified Arab reluctance to support the Palestinian economy.

Palestinian Minister of Industry Saadi Krunz urged Arab countries, especially, Jordan and Egypt, to streamline their economic ties with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). He stated the Palestinian economy is approaching near death.

"Arab countries used to consume almost 70 percent of Palestinian exports in the past," Krunz said. "Today, our exports to them donít exceed 50 percent." He noted Jordanís relations with the PNA areas is essential to offset Israeli efforts to strangulate the Palestinian economy. Since the beginning of Al Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, Arab economic relations with the PNA has been subject to the whims of Israelis. And Arab mutual trade with the Palestinians have been cut. Statistics reveal PNAís economic losses in the past 11 months at $5.4 billion, as high as the Palestinian GDP.

Jordan is among the few countries that kept its economic relations with the PNA. The Kingdomís annual trade volume across the river used to surpass $50 million. But even with that, Jordanís trade with the PNA makes only made one percent of Palestinian trade with Israel. Jordanís trade agreement with the PNA provides preferential tariffs for goods traded between the Kingdom and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Most Jordanian exports to the Palestinian territories, including pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs and minerals are duty free, provided the import volume does not exceed the pre-determined quota. Krunz noted Israel is trying to impede the flow of Jordanian goods such as cement and pharmaceuticals to restrict the economic and social development in the Palestinian territories.

"I call on Jordan to pressure Israel and allow goods from the Kingdom to the Palestinian territories. This will help the Palestinians to overcome the severe shortage in some of its basic needs, including raw materials," the Palestinian minister added. Officials said Palestinian exports worldwide before the Intifada were $800 million per year, today they are down to $400 million.

Jordanian officials, meanwhile, affirmed relations with PNA is in a downhill mode because of Israeli obstruction. Minister of Trade and Industry Wassif Azar said he is working firmly with his Palestinian counterpart to streamline a potential economic partnership between the two sides.

He also called on the private sector on each side to take the initiative and extend a hand in building a healthy environment for Palestinian and Jordanian business. "I strongly believe joint ventures between Palestine and Jordan canít achieve their goals if they are not conducted and supervised by the private sector of each side," he added.

Jordanís imports of Palestinian goods is important for the local economy. The total market for Palestinian food products is about $35 million per year, around 35 percent of this is exported to the Kingdom. The same goes for Palestinian manufacturing of stone and marble.

According to recent report by the Palestinian Union of Stone and Marble, Jordan is one of the main importers of such material.

The Kingdom comes ahead of the US, Korea and Arab Gulf states. Othman Budeir, head of the Amman Chamber of Industry, said the Jordanian private sector needs to find a way to balance its efforts between seeking new markets and retaining existing ones. Budeir believes 60 percent of this yearís trade exchange with PNA was Jordanian exports, while PNAís trade with Israel is estimated in billions of dollars.

This is not to forget Israeli exports to the PNA-ruled territories declined by 50 percent over the past eight months, while the amount of Palestinian exports to Israeli markets also dropped by 25 percent. Still, about 75 percent of the Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza boycott Israeli products.

Budeir believes such a reality should encourage the government and the private sector in Jordan to upgrade their economic ties with the PNA. "Unless we use our time more efficiently, I believe the situation will get worse for the Palestinians, and eventually for Jordan," he stressed.

Ghassan Joha
The Star

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