Rami Olwan

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Workshop puts benefits of US-Jordan Free Trade Agreement under spotlight

Exporters and importers representing over 100 Jordanian companies took part on Monday in a workshop on how to maximise benefits from the US-Jordan Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The two-day workshop seeks to increase awareness of Jordanian exporters about the FTA benefits and clarify trade policies between the two countries to help companies expand their businesses.

Experts from the Kingdom and the US are participating in the event to address questions of businessmen and to explain topics such as harmonised system codes for trading and tariffs, certificates of origin, customs, legal requirement for exporting to and importing from the US, compliance regulations, property rights among others.

During the inauguration ceremony of the workshop, American Ambassador to Jordan Stephen Beecroft credited America’s free trade agreement with Jordan for an increase in bilateral trade exchange from $369 million in 1998 to $2.1 billion in 2008.

The envoy stressed the need to diversify Jordanian exports to the US market, noting that apparel exports have dropped due to the global downturn.

“Exports shipped under the Qualifiying Industrial Zones have dropped by 22 per cent, while exports under the FTA have risen by 11.9 per cent,” he noted, expecting a rise in exports when tariffs are completely eliminated in 2010.

Industry and Trade Minister Amer Hadidi said the agreement, under which trade volumes surged by fivefold in the past years compared to 2000, also covered intellectual property rights protection, environment, labour and electronic commerce besides trade in goods and services.

“The Kingdom’s exports to the US climbed from $63 million in 2000 to exceed $1 billion in 2008,” Hadidi said, adding that imports from the US also increased from $306 million in 2000 to $774 million last year.

Nayef Stetieh, the president and chief executive officer of the USAID-funded Tatweer Project and the Business Development Centre (BDC), said local businesses should understand and make use of the agreement to harness new market opportunities offered by the FTA.

Elham Ziadat, the general manager of Bloom Company for manufacturing Dead Sea products, said the firm was the first in Jordan to benefit from the free trade agreement and now its products are being distributed in 10 American states.

She indicated that experts from Tatweer Project and BDC facilitated the company’s penetration to the US market by improving products’ packaging.

“They assisted us as to what kind of claims should be written on products, besides familiarising us with custom regulations,” she said, noting that the FTA has given Jordanian products a priority to enter the US.

According to Hani Mustafa, the marketing manager of Petra Engineering Industries which manufactures air-conditioning units, the FTA helped the company reduce delivery time as products go directly from the factory to customers in the US.

Mohammad Rifai, owner of a company which exports Dead Sea products to the US and other countries, described the agreement as important for the industrial sector but complained that the main obstacle is entering the US.

“Jordanian industrialists do not face any difficulties when applying for visa to other countries such as Europe, but when applying to the US it takes a long time, sometimes it takes years,” he said, adding that this issue should be addressed.

Mohammad Shami, head of Jordanian society for manufacturing and exporting granite, marble and stone, agreed.

He said some members of the society applied two years ago to obtain entry visas to the US but they have not received any response yet, adding that this affected the industry as export figures to the US market are “modest” compared with other countries.

A US embassy statement e-mailed to The Jordan Times, stated that visa processing takes longer than it did before September 11.

“We require more information, most people require an interview and most people will be required to give a finger scan. These processes improve the security of the process immeasurably; they were congressionally mandated in the aftermath of 9/11 and designed to make travel to the US safer for everyone,” the statement said.

According to the statement, in Amman, “80 per cent of qualified applicants receive their visa within a week. A certain percentage of our cases are subject to further administrative processing. This processing can be as short as a few days or longer. Applying early is key.”



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