Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

Opinion

EU had a plan for Jordan - now it's time to make it work

  • Refugees from Syria in Lebanon. The EU-Jordan deal has fallen short of ramping up trade because the trade concessions that the EU offered are exceedingly modest. (Photo: © Dominic Chavez/World Bank)

Two years ago, the European Union announced a groundbreaking deal providing Jordan with $1.8bn (€1.47bn) in grants and loans as well as trade measures allowing preferential access for certain products from Jordanian businesses employing at least 15 percent Syrian refugees.

For its part, Jordan agreed to expand educational and economic access for Syrian refugees in the country, including 200,000 work permits for Syrian refugees in specific sectors.

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The overall compact had a powerful strategic logic for the EU: by creating incentives for increased Jordanian exports to the EU and employment of Syrian refugees, the EU could both help support Jordan - a strategic partner feeling acute pressure from the 1.3 million Syrian refugees it is hosting - and induce refugees to stay in Jordan with concrete job opportunities.

The deal would benefit Jordanians and refugees - as well as the EU.

As the EU prepares to host another summit in Brussels to address the Syria refugee crisis, it must acknowledge that the trade component of the Jordan deal has failed in practice: two years on, only four companies have exported roughly €2.3m worth of products under the deal.

Why has the EU deal failed to deliver?

While some analysis has focused on the challenges in recruiting refugee workers, our assessment is that they are less the cause of the failure than the symptom of Jordanian businesses lacking strong incentives to take advantage of the deal.

Where firms in Jordan have had a clear business reason to hire refugees, they have successfully done so.

The EU-Jordan deal has fallen short of ramping up trade because the trade concessions that the EU offered are exceedingly modest.

The deal made it easier for certain Jordanian products to qualify for duty-free access to the EU by reducing the "local content" requirement (the portion of the product's value that had to be generated in Jordan) from a high threshold of 70 percent to a more manageable threshold of 30 percent - in principle, an important concession as many of Jordan's products use inputs from other countries.

However, the benefits of the trade preference are circumscribed:

The trade preference only extends to certain selected sectors - such as plastics, chemicals, and garments. By one credible assessment, almost two-thirds of Jordan's current international exports are excluded from the deal.

It is limited to companies operating in 18 designated development zones (located far from the majority of Syrian refugees), excluding Jordanian firms with business operations elsewhere in the country.

It provides duty-free access to the EU market - which a large number of other countries already enjoy. In the garment sector, for example, both Turkey (with cheaper transportation costs to the EU) and Bangladesh (with lower labour costs) already have duty-free access - neutralising the advantage for Jordanian firms.

The EU-Jordan deal has generated meagre benefits to date, even while the Jordanian government has made progress on its side of the bargain, issuing 83,500 work permits since the start of the compact.

But the strategic logic that motivated the EU to enter the deal should now compel the EU to improve, not abandon, it.

Three steps

First, the EU can strengthen the deal by expanding the scope of eligibility.

It should start by acceding to the Jordanian government's request to extend trade preferences to businesses operating anywhere in Jordan – an easy fix.

It should go further and include a wider range of Jordan's export sectors – the simplified rules of origin could be particularly beneficial in sectors where Jordanian businesses may have more European market demand and/or greater competitiveness, such as in food processing.

Second, the EU and European governments should play a hands-on role in trying to facilitate Jordanian firms' access to the EU market. Buyer-supplier relationships are often 'sticky' and European companies may be slow to increase their business with lesser-known Jordanian firms.

To accelerate Jordanian firms' access to the EU market, the European Commission and European governments will need to do more to broker these relationships, and also help companies meet EU quality and regulatory standards.

Third, the EU should develop targeted tax incentives for EU businesses that make investments in Jordan generating jobs for both Jordanians and refugees.

With links directly to EU markets and expertise in meeting regulatory standards, European businesses would be well-positioned to leverage the preferential trade arrangement and advance the EU goals of helping Jordanian host communities and refugees – but these businesses may need additional incentives to set up new operations.

Even with the current EU deal, we believe Jordan warrants strong consideration from multinational businesses, both as a place to invest in, and as a place to source goods and services from: Jordan has a stable government, a business-friendly regulatory environment, and preferential trade access to the United States and the Gulf, in addition to the EU.

The opportunity to help Syrian refugees, by hiring them directly or bringing them into their supply chains, should also be a consideration for multinational businesses - for humanitarian, strategic, and reputational reasons.

But with the scale of what Jordan faces – with Syrian refugees amounting to more than 10 percent of its population – the EU must improve its deal with Jordan and deliver on its promise to boost Jordanian exports and refugee hiring.

Gideon Maltz is the executive director of the Tent Foundation. He previously served in key roles at the US mission to the United Nations, USAID, and the White House national security council.

Cindy Huang is the co-director of migration, displacement, and humanitarian policy and senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development. She previously served in key roles at the US State Department and the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

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