EU proposes trade benefits for Jordan in exchange for allowing restricted refugee employment

Published January 19th, 2016 - 09:55 GMT
Champs-Elysées, the main commercial hub of Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan. (UNHCR)
Champs-Elysées, the main commercial hub of Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan. (UNHCR)

Germany and Britain are pushing for the European Union to consider granting Jordan trade benefits that could help support Syrian refugees in the Middle Eastern country, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Monday.

The push comes ahead of a Syria pledging conference that is due to be held in London on February 4.

"We have to think about how to ensure not only with the allocation of money, but also with real policies that Syrian refugees can remain in neighbouring regions," Steinmeier told journalists in Brussels after a meeting with his EU counterparts, which also featured talks with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

The EU is trying to stem the number of refugees coming its way by encouraging them to stay in countries neighbouring Syria - notably Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

Jordan is willing to grant the refugees restricted access to its labour market, but the EU should in turn help Jordan export what would be produced by the refugees, Steinmeier argued.

"Until the start of the conference in London, we should discuss and think about how we can introduce a bit of flexibility in our trade provisions," he said, adding that he had urged for this at the ministers' talks together with his British counterpart Philip Hammond.

But the proposal is facing resistance in the 28-country bloc, the German minister acknowledged - notably from southern European countries that manufacture some of the products that would be concerned, such as textiles.

Steinmeier nevertheless declared himself optimistic that the approach could succeed.

"Jordan is one of the most, if not the most relevant partner in a very turbulent region - an island of stability," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini noted. "We all agree inside the EU that we need to invest in the resilience and the stability of Jordan."

Using trade measures to help struggling partners is not unheard-of in the EU. It, for instance, allowed Tunisia to temporarily export more olive oil to the bloc, despite initial resistance by fellow oil producer Italy.


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