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Aqaba Special Economic Zone; Model experience at WEF

The extraordinary annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, to be held at the Dead Sea between June 21-23, brings together acclaimed politicians and leading businesspeople from every corner of the globe to address pressing issues linked to the future of the Middle East in general, particularly the challenges facing the reconstruction of oil-rich Iraq.

As preparations go underway, officials from the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) say the two-year experience of Aqaba Special Economic Zone (ASEZ) stands out as a showcase for good governance, superlative conditions for domestic and foreign investment and an encouraging liberalized investment climate.

"The Aqaba Special Economic Zone is emerging as a major regional economic development node for tourism, recreational services, professional services, multi-modal transportation, and value-added industries in the Middle East," said Akel Biltaji, chief commissioner of ASEZA.

ASEZ now boasts 5-star hotels, warehousing and industrial park facilities, along with a modern government agency—ASEZA—and streamlined procedures.

"These attributes have played a major role in attracting foreign and domestic investment into the Zone over the past two years through our One-Stop-Shop and streamlined, investor-friendly procedures," Biltaji noted.

The One-Stop-Shop is ASEZA’s one-stop investment window that serves as single point of entry designed to facilitate business start-up and smooth operations.

A liberalized, low-tax, duty-free, and multi-sector development area, ASEZ covers 375 square kilometers of land that possesses a great economic potential and an unparalleled opportunity to set up diverse businesses and industries, within its master-planned environs.

Earmarked as an incubator for light industries, the Aqaba International Industrial Estate (AIIE), owned by the Jordan Industrial Estates Corporation (JIEC), was launched by King Abdallah early this year. Parsons Brinckerhoff International Aqaba Industrial Estate LLP (PBI Aqaba), a subsidiary of a leading US based civil engineering company (Parsons Brinckerhoff International), and SUTA Construction, a substantial Turkish land development company, have been awarded a 30 year concession to plan, finance, develop, market and operate the industrial estate, located north of the Zone.

"This estate will be the strongest of all the existing QIZs due to its unique position in the Special Economic Zone of Aqaba," according to Sheldon Fink, CEO and president of PBI Aqaba Industrial Estate LLP. With already two-factories operating with the AIIE, the Estate provides investors with the chance to take full advantage of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that Jordan has signed with the United States of America in 2000 and the Qualified Industrial Zone program, also sponsored by the USA.

In the southernmost extremity of the Zone, heavy industries, such as phosphate and potash, rest in an accommodating proximity from the Port of Aqaba, which comprises of the Main Port, Containers Port and Industrial Port.

The southern area also encompasses the Marine Science Station, the Aqaba Marine Park’s visitor center, the National Camp, the Royal Diving Club—and is forecasted to accommodate a state-of-the-art American University, a mega educational center that falls within the vision of turning ASEZ into the core of the Aqaba Gulf Region community.

The University will be set up in close proximity from a promising, $450-million tourism project and a premium vacation destination and an integrated resort community located on the Gulf of Aqaba, the Tala Bay, currently under construction.

Developed by Jordan Projects for Tourism Development Plc (JPTD), the 2.76 million square meters of land, on which Tala Bay is being developed, is converting the area into an attractive leisure oasis consisting of numerous hotels, private villas and apartments, a town community centered around a marina, a diving center, a golf course and other cultural and recreational attractions. Significantly, construction of the Marina and the surrounding town is on its way of completion.

Northbound rest 400-hectares of land to be turned into an integrated, multi-use leisure community built around a large man-made lagoon featuring marinas, golf courses, high-end hotels, residential communities, retail spaces, restaurants, conference facilities and more. The contract to develop the resort, dubbed the Aqaba Lagoon Tourism Site (ALTS), was recently awarded to a major international Saudi group, the Arab Supply and Trading Co. (ASTRA).

With a major shopping mall due to open early September, the Aqaba City Center owned by AbuDahab Group, Aqaba will offer the Red Sea community a unique kind of shopping and entertainment experience that falls within the vision of turning ASEZ into a multi-faceted hub encompassing diversity and colorfulness. Two other main malls are also due in the near future, the Shweikh Mall and Khater Mall.

"The ASEZ is meant to serve Aqaba, Jordan and the entire Middle East," Biltaji said.

The Zone, he noted, epitomizes many of the areas of focus on the agenda of the World Economic Forum’s extraordinary annual meeting, where world leaders will discuss a recent US initiative to create a North America-Middle East free trade zone within a decade

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