|Local marble puts Jordan's exports on firm pedestal
|When the marble and stone industry was launched in Jordan over 30 years ago, its initiators aimed at blazing new trails for the Jordanian economy. The sector benefits from abundant mineral resources, including lime and building stone.
Today, this industry is doing well, considering the quantity of the products.
Jordan's annual exports of marble and stone are estimated at around $35 million, representing a relatively small market, but a promising one indeed.
More than 600 registered establishments are currently working in producing marble and stone. These companies employ more than 3300 workers. Investments in the marble sector are also growing, although no specific figures are available, unconfirmed statistics put these investments at JD 100 million, much of it from foreign businessmen and investors.
Marble quarries cover the Kingdom's landscape. Today these quarries produce hundreds of thousands of square meters of different kinds of marble and stone products. Compared to other countries in the region, Jordan's marble is considered an added-value product. Almost three quarters of the local production goes to local markets, while the remaining 27 percent goes to the Gulf, Palestine and Italy.
The rapid developments in Jordan's economy over the past few years forced many of the local marble companies to revise their production strategies. It also made them focus on the policies required to make their products more compliant with international standards. The Jordan-US Free Trade Agreement and the Association Agreement with Europe have provided more accessibility to world markets for local marble industries.
But marble production requires more than that. It needs to be sustained and supported both locally and internationally. Many of the quarries in the Kingdom are still producing poor quality products. The sector already enjoys better infrastructure for excavating and transferring the raw materials.
However, only large companies have responded positively to the challenge facing the sector regarding the shortage of water by installing recycling systems to re-use gray water. Last year, the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) facilitated a 9.3 million euro loan (JD 6.5 million) for the promotion of Jordan's marble industry. Through the program, low interest loans are provided by the Italian government to help local producers obtain needed resources. The loan, initiated in December 2001, is part of UNIDO's Investment Promotion Unit program to provide technical and financial assistance to the local marble sector.
Nicola Drago, IPU's expert, revealed that more than 50 percent of the current loan has been used so far. He said the organization is working through its contacts within governmental departments to ensure Jordanian marble producers receive their share of the loan.
Being a major European producer of marble, Italy is interested in maintaining the strength of Jordan's marble sector to ensure its ability to meet European demand.
v Maria Pia Pantaleo, the Italian Trade Commissioner in Amman, agrees: "The Italian government is providing every possible help to Jordanian companies and to put them in fitness with the export/import trade relations," Pantaleo told The Star. "The marble market in Jordan is a very good one, and is developing a lot. We have witnessed rapid growth in local exports up to 2001, both in the value and weight," she added.
About 63 percent of Italy's imports of marble and stone in 2001 came from Jordan, while 86 percent of the machinery Jordan imported in the same year came from Italy.
The majority of the marble companies in Jordan are small to medium enterprises. This enticed UNIDO to support these companies, which form the backbone of the industry, and to upgrade the quality of their products. The loan is an opportunity for all marble producers to obtain machinery and technology from Italy to maintain good production quality. "We have the mandate to prepare the application for Jordanian marble producers. This application acts as a business plan for Jordanian companies," Drago told The Star.
The business plan assists Jordanian and Italian companies in reaching better contracts. Such agreements are also encouraged through contacts with other concerned institutions in the Kingdom, notably the EJADA (European-Jordanian Action for the Development of Enterprise).
Drago agrees that many Jordanian companies are facing pressure to fulfill their financial commitment to banks. This, he added, is being discussed with EJADA to guarantee governmental support to sustain the capacity of the local marble industry. The Jordan Investment Board is also working on this issue. The JIB stresses the potential opportunities that Jordan's marble has for investment.
Foreign investors can enjoy 100 percent ownership of such enterprises and assistance in licensing and initiating production procedures.
But local businessmen fear such incentives will come at the expense of local investors, who have already invested many resources in their projects. Khader Abu Khader, assistant director of the Jordan Marble Company, urged the government to ease pressure on local marble exports by opening new outlets and initiating joint ventures with foreign companies in the sector.
The introduction of the Jordan-US FTA paved the way for local marble to reach US markets. Until recently, only travertine and limestone have been exported to the US, in addition to Canada and Australia. Earlier this year, a UNIDO report indicated that some local entrepreneurs have begun to reorganize the processing layouts and structure of their companies.
The report added that such steps were intended to help realize marketing objectives.