President Barack Obama has issued a call to action early in September of 2016. This call has reached out to the U.S. private sector to engage in a series of immediate relief to the Syrian refugee crisis through investments and innovative responses. Secretary of State, John Kerry has responded by establishing a high level business delegation headed by Special Representative Mr. Ziad Haider and U.S. Ambassador to Jordan, Her Excellency Alice G. Wells. On a brisk sunny day in December 2016, a team of US diplomats and private sector representatives were selected throughout the nation to attend this business delegation to Jordan and meet with His Excellency, Prime Minister Hani al Mulki to discuss the Syrian refugee crisis and furthering Jordan’s unique economic ties with the United States. The US-Jordan Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which was signed in 2000, has allowed for substantial trade opportunities to occur between the two nations. The US business delegation highlighted ways to further utilize the US-Jordan FTA in order to relieve regional refugees, increase access for investors into the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and discuss the outlooks of the region in these turbulent times.
As quoted by Mr. Haider; “The delegation was an extension of my office’s mandate at the State Department to promote U.S. commercial interests, while executing on the White House Call to Action for Private Sector Engagement on the Refugee Crisis to which over 60 leading U.S. firms have already responded.”
Ambassador Wells, a career Foreign Service Officer, was sworn in as the United States Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on July 28, 2014. She previously served as a senior adviser in the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau in the Department of State, as Special Assistant to the President for Russia and Central Asia in the White House (2012-2013); Executive Assistant to Secretary of State Clinton (2011-2012); and Executive Assistant to Under Secretary for Political Affairs William J. Burns (2009-2011). From 2006 to 2009, Ambassador Wells served as Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at U.S. Embassy Moscow, and previously worked as Director of Maghreb Affairs and as Acting Director of Egypt and North African Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Ambassador Wells also served as a political officer at U.S. Embassy New Delhi, U.S. Embassy Islamabad and U.S. Embassy Riyadh.
Special Representative Haider serves as the Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. He leads the Office of Commercial and Business Affairs in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs in assisting and promoting U.S. business interests overseas; ensuring that private sector concerns are fully integrated into U.S. foreign and economic policy; and promoting global entrepreneurship and the protection of intellectual property rights.
The White House; President Barack Obama’s Call to Action
There are more than 65 million displaced people in the world today, the highest number on record since the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) began collecting statistics. More than 21 million of these people have crossed international borders in search of safety and are registered as refugees.
A crisis of this scale requires more than government action. In issuing the Call to Action, President Obama challenged the U.S. private sector to draw on its unique expertise, resources and entrepreneurial spirit to help refugees regain control over their lives and integrate into their new communities. Their response is unprecedented.
Call to Action Impact Areas:
The Call to Action was principally focused on generating new commitments in three “impact areas”:
- Education – Facilitating refugee children and young adults’ education by ensuring that refugee students can access schools of all levels and creating quality long-distance learning platforms and programs.
- Employment – Increasing employment opportunities for refugees, supporting refugee entrepreneurship, and assisting refugees’ reentry into the workforce.
- Enablement – Increasing humanitarian financing, strengthening infrastructure and access to resources needed for refugees to become self-reliant, and supporting countries taking new steps to welcome refugees or allow them to work and attend school.
To facilitate private sector commitments in response to the Call to Action, the White House announced in June 2016 the creation of the Partnership for Refugees, an initiative established through collaboration between the Department of State and USA for UNHCR, with significant support from Accenture Federal Services. The Partnership for Refugees has provided guidance to private sector organizations that have wished to take action and has helped to ensure that their pledges are sustainable and responsive to refugees’ needs. On November 1, 2016, the Tent Foundation will assume control over the operations and management of the Partnership for Refugees, thereby ensuring the long-term vitality of this initiative. Other federal agencies supporting this initiative include the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Homeland Security, the Small Business Administration, and the Department of Commerce.
US Business Delegation Holds Meeting with Prime Minister al Mulki
During talks with al Mulki, US private sector delegates expressed their interest in investing and establishing development projects in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Prime Minister al Mulki highlighted the plethora of services the Kingdom offers to ease access of investing and operating foreign owned companies in Jordan. The meeting was also attended by His Excellency Minister of State for Media Affairs Mohammad Momani, and His Excellency Minister of State for Economic Affairs Yusuf Mansur as well as large US firms like Coca Cola, Pepsico, Mastercard and Microsoft.
Special Representative Haider went into depth about the US-Jordan FTA by shedding light on Jordan’s security, central location, and economic opportunities which are indicators as to why large and small investor firms alike are flocking to Jordan. The US-Jordan FTA provides unparalleled competition in the region which is witnessing large strides in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sectors and exports. According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative:
“The United States and Jordan continued to benefit from their extensive economic partnership. A key element of this relationship is the United States-Jordan Free Trade Agreement, which was fully implemented on January 1, 2010. In addition, the Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZs), established by Congress in 1996, allow products to enter the United States duty-free if manufactured in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, or the West Bank and Gaza. The program has succeeded in stimulating significant business cooperation between Jordan and Israel. Together these measures have played a significant role in boosting overall United States-Jordanian economic ties. U.S. goods exports were $1.2 billion in 2009, up 27 percent from 2008. The United States-Jordan FTA has expanded the trade relationship by reducing barriers for services, providing cutting-edge protection for intellectual property, ensuring regulatory transparency, and requiring effective labor and environmental enforcement.”
US Business Delegation Meets with the Jordan Investment Commission and the Ministry of Industry and Trade
His Excellency, Minister of Industry, Trade and Supply Mr. Yarub Qudah held talks with the US delegation highlighting Jordan’s economic opportunities for investors and foreign company operations. Minister Qudah spoke to the spectrum of laws that protect and aid foreign investments. Jordan’s premiere port city of Aqaba is an inlet to the Asian, African, and European continents, reinvigorating the old Silk Road by land, air, and sea. This area is safeguarded by impressive security forces, granting Jordan economic and political stability in an ever-changing region. Not only are Jordan’s borders secure, but investments are safeguarded by a fixed exchange rate, where the Jordanian Dinar is fixed to the United States Dollar via the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights. This makes the Jordanian Dinar the most stable currency in the region. In addition to these conveniences, Minister Qudah and his team are working on drafting into law a Venture Capital Fund bill which expedites the process in finding, vetting and investing in the Jordanian markets.
The economic activity brought about by Jordan’s many Free Trade Agreements and the Kingdom’s forward-thinking leadership has precipitated a tremendous amount of investment in Jordan. This has initiated the Jordanian Investment Law. The U.S. trade delegation met with the Chairman of the Jordan Investment Commission, His Excellency Mr. Thabet Elwir to discuss the ease of accessing the Jordanian markets through the Jordanian Investment Law. This law places the private sector in the lead among competing regional nations, providing unprecedented streamlining of licensing, permits, and quality services necessary for business operations. The law’s regulatory framework, whose procedures are in line with leading international practices, guarantees effective implementation of business startup processes. Jordan’s regulatory environment also provides investors with an improved business environment, including, but not limited to, the following features:
- No restrictions on foreign ownership
- Clear land ownership policy
- Streamlined business procedures
- Streamlined licensing for expatriates
- Streamlined property registration and transfer
- Streamlined customs regulations to speed import/export of products and materials
- Improved investor protection and disclosure of company transactions
- Improved enforcement of intellectual property rights
- Flexible labor regulations
- Allowances for the establishment of Free Zones within the bounds of Development Zones
- The Investment Law’s most promising investment feature is its tax incentives.
Greenfield’s MENA Initiative
Greenfield Advisors was invited to attend as a US business delegate by Ambassador Wells and US Embassy staff to join the US private sector during these meetings. This invitation comes after a Greenfield program headed by Mr. Nawaf Alfaouri and Dr. Clifford Lipscomb launched in March 2016 titled “The MENA Initiative” which seeks to increase awareness on economic opportunities in Jordan and the MENA region for US investors. Greenfield also capital raises for attracted venture capital clients desiring to invest in the region. The MENA initiative parallels the “Washington to Washington” Initiative that Ambassador Wells launched in March of 2016. The Washington to Washington trade delegation travelled from Washington D.C. to Seattle, Washington with a high level Jordanian delegation with an aim to draw US exporters and investors to engage in the MENA region at a very pivotal time. As the conflicts in Iraq are beginning to subside, U.S. firms have an opportunity to invest in the infrastructure needs of the region, as well as the vibrant ICT sector in Jordan. These two parallel initiatives have come to fruition as Greenfield has actualized establishing a venture capital fund for its client, which is an action inspired by Ambassador Wells and her tremendous contributions in furthering the unique US-Jordan economic relationship.
The US Business Delegation ended its mission after attending a “Year End Review” Gala hosted by the Chairman and CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Jordan (AmCham Jordan), Engineer Mohammed Bataineh and Ms. Rose Alissi, respectively. This gathering brought together large US firms and investors to celebrate the public and private sector’s symbiotic relationship in attracting investors into the region, as well as the strong ties enjoyed by the US-Jordan FTA. The dinner also hosted the signing of a grants agreement awarded by the USAID Jordan Competitiveness Program (JCP) to AmCham Jordan for US $600,000 over an 18-month period to promote FTA expansion. The U.S. trade delegation was one of many factors to a very active 2016 which saw a host of initiatives attracting investors into the MENA region.
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