Jordan’s economic prospects boosted by London summit

Measures to assist Jordan in building its economy and attracting foreign investment

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II with Crown Prince Hussein of Jordan, Queen Rania of Jordan, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Britain's Princess Anne, during a private audience at Buckingham Palace, London, Britain, February 28, 2019. Yui Mok/Pool via REUTERS
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Western and Arab allies committed to a raft of aid measures designed to boost Jordan’s economy at a high profile international donor's conference in London that featured some the most dynamic aspects of the country's business community.

Speaking at the UK-led Jordan: Growth and Opportunity conference in London on Thursday, Penny Mordaunt, Britain's International Development Secretary, stressed the importance of education, training and economic reforms for a burgeoning nation.

She announced the UK would give £25m towards equipping 200,000 young Jordanians with English language and business skills and UNICEF will receive an extra £3.35 million to get more children into education.

As well as the extra cash, Ms Mordaunt announced a new partnership between the British Council, Jordan’s Crown Prince Foundation and the UK’s Prince’s Trust to train Jordanians in a three-year pilot programme.

British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the UK would underwrite a $250m (Dh 920 million) World Bank loan for the debt-stricken kingdom while France said its total support would advance to $1 billion.

"Jordan is an old and cherished friend of the UK. At the heart of our long-term partnership with Jordan is a broad and deep commitment to tackling common challenges," Mrs May said. "Today has shown us what a modern, reforming, innovative Middle Eastern state can look like – and how a dynamic, stable Jordan can generate benefits not only for its people but for many beyond."

The conference is designed to lay out the work Jordan has done to steady its economic ship and reduce the national debt – which currently stands at 95 per cent of GDP – and showcase areas of growth for potential investors.

High-level politicians and business leaders attended, as well as a delegation of young people to represent the interests of the 40 per cent of Jordan’s youth currently unemployed.

“This is about working as partners, sharing our skills, experience and resources to jointly tackle the challenges we face in a way that delivers global security and prosperity,” added Mrs May.

The UK’s decision to underwrite the World Bank loan will allow Jordan to borrow money at a lower rate and manage its national debt more effectively.

Meeting both Queen Elizabeth II and Mrs May, King Abdullah II also sat down with British officials, including British Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa Alister Burt on Wednesday.

The monarch has been crucial to keeping the nation afloat whilst honouring its commitment to refugees from neighbouring Syria and Iraq, says Sankara Narayanan, leader of The Economist’s Middle East and Africa analysis team.

“What seems to be working for Jordan is the strong hold of the King, he has been able to keep political stability intact in a region which is very volatile,” he said.

“That is the best thing for Jordan.

Jordan’s Syrian refugee population also benefitted with an announcement of a £50m aid package for 22,000 Syrian refugees in the form of cash transfers,

“These transfers themselves are simple, efficient and a good use of aid - avoiding the storage and transport costs associated with other forms of aid,” she said,

“And they give refugees choice and dignity.”

Direct giving in this way is increasingly en vogue in the aid sector, with the idea that giving autonomy gives recipients self respect and also pays back into the wider economy.

The Department for International Development estimates that cash transfers are 18% cheaper than delivering in kind.

Other British commitments are expected to include a cash contribution to a global finance initiative supporting small and medium enterprises, enabling banks to give out more loans to Jordanian entrepreneurs setting up their own businesses.

Ms Mordaunt said the Jordan conference was proof the UK was not taking a “back-seat” on the world stage post-Brexit.

“That is why the UK will strengthen its role as the champion of emerging economies, to ensure there continues to be strong markets where British companies can do business, and where Britain is seen as the partner of choice,” she said.

Trade experts will be offered to both British, international and Jordanian businesses hoping to export to each other’s countries. The UK will announce a partnership between the Bank of England and Central Bank of Jordan to ensure reforms are introduced smoothly.

The Jordanian delegation is particularly hoping to attract investment for its tourism, information technology, logistics and professional services sectors.