|Arab Bank given restricted function in US |
* The US Office of Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) has permitted last week the Arab Bank to resume operations in New York on condition of ceasing electronic transfers. It stipulated that the Arab Bank suffers from “inadequate controls” on fund transfers, which are often investigated by the Americans for allegedly money-laundering violations. Hence, the bank has been ordered to maintain assets of $420 million in the New York branch while changes are being made. The American decision came weeks after earlier plans by the Arab Bank to shut down its branch in New York in view of the lawsuits that were filed by Jewish Americans claiming that the bank transfers cash to the families of suicide-bombers in the occupied Palestinian territories. A spokeswoman for the US Treasury Department said the Arab Bank was also under regulatory review by the agency’s financial crimes enforcement network.
Foreign debt down
* Jordan’s public debt stood at 95.1 percent of the GDP and totaling JD 7.3 billion in 2004, down 6 percent from 2003. The figure constitutes JD 5.34 billion foreign debt, while the rest JD 1.945 billion is domestic. Last year’s debt service reached JD 654 million. Minister of Finance Mohammad Abu Hammour attributed the reduction in debt to the decline in interest rates on foreign loans that were obtained last year.
Jordan, EU trade grows
* Trade volume between Jordan and the EU reached JD 1.43 billion in 2004, up by JD 300 million over 2003 with exports to the EU at JD 72.6 million and imports at JD 1.3 billion. Spain was Jordan’s biggest importer at JD 12.4 million, followed by the Netherlands at JD 11.3 million. Germany was biggest exporter to Jordan at JD 393.3 million, followed by Italy at JD 221.5 million. Meanwhile, Jordan’s mutual trade with members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) doubled last year to JD 103.1 million, compared to JD 57 million in 2003. Most of Jordan’s exports to EFTA states—estimated at JD 19.3 million—went to Switzerland, which was also the Kingdom’s biggest EFTA exporter at JD 80.1 million.
US funds power study
* The US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) awarded $363,000 grant to the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation for a feasibility study on a new 400-kilovolt transmission line that would run from Southern Jordan, near Aqaba, to the north, past Amman. If implemented, the line will advance Jordanian and regional development by improving the country’s power voltage level, decreasing regional power loss and blackouts, and increasing the reliability of the national electric system.
JIC marked 2004 with vast profits
* The Jordan Insurance Co (JIC) multiplied its pre-tax profits last year to JD 10.9 million, the highest in the company’s 54-year history, with taxable profits at JD 9.4 million, compared to JD 2.5 million in 2003. The company’s board of directors endorsed the distribution of 15 percent of its JD 10 million capital in dividends. JIC’s board also approved a proposal to raise the capital to JD 25 million. The company’s premiums also increased by 11.8 percent to JD 19.5 million, while its revenues from financial and land investments rose to JD 8.7 million.
Aqaba congestion fees dropped
* International marine fees are expected to rise by $150 per container shortly worldwide, including to Aqaba seaport, effective within two months, according to Rudain Kawar, president of the Marine Agents Association. Kawar indicated shipping fees are currently around $1450 on containers coming from the Far East, while those from North Europe are charged at $1150. Kawar predicted marine fees would continue to rise, “due to the growth in world trade and the high operation shipping costs.” As of March 1, all international marine companies have stopped charging congestion fees on shipped containers at the Aqaba seaport following the recent measures that helped to ease congestion that affected the seaport last year.