Jordan's new economic zone in the southern port city of Aqaba formally opened for round-the-clock business in the early hours of Friday, February 16, aimed at attracting $6 billion in investments. The president of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone authority, Mohamed Kalaldeh, told the press that the ASEZ will be open seven days a week to achieve its goals.
By Thursday noon, 42 companies had applied for registration in the ASEZ, while 60 other firms were in the process of submitting their requests, Kalaldeh told Petra news agency. Aqaba port is Jordan's only outlet to the sea, and officials in the kingdom pin high hopes on this new scheme creating a low-tax economic zone that will help bring a much-needed boost to the kingdom's ailing economy.
Jordan expects it will attract $6 billion in investments from tourism, information technology firms, industry, commerce and services, and the creation of 70,000 jobs that will help to double per capita income by 2020.
On January 1, the zone began operating informally, while officials fine-tuned 17 special laws drawn up for it. Imad Fakhuri, commissioner for investment and economic development in the zone, has said he expected that 50 percent of investments would come from the tourist sector, 30 percent from service industries and 20 percent from manufacturing.
In July, the Jordanian cabinet approved the plan and passed a law that stipulates strict curbs on the sale of land in the southern port. The sale of land in Aqaba will now depend on the "principle of reciprocity" with the country of origin of potential investors — thus effectively ruling out Israel, which bans land sales to foreigners. Critics have said the project would turn Aqaba into a self-rule haven for money-launderers, smugglers and moral corruption, as well as undermine national sovereignty and open the door to Israeli land grabs. —(AFP)
© Agence France Presse 2000
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