Jordan and Saudi Arabia might clinch a free trade agreement (FTA) this summer as both sides have agreed to start talks on the issue, officials said on Thursday, February 15. Wrapping up a four-day visit to the Saudi kingdom, Jordan Investment Board Director General Reem Badran said the two countries okayed in principle the launch of negotiations to set up a free trade zone that would gradually eliminate customs tariffs and trade barriers.
“Sealing an FTA before the launch of the Arab Free Trade Area (AFTA) means gaining time and boosting trade exchange between the two neighbours,” said Badran. The AFTA envisions a zero customs zone by 2007 through the lowering of customs tariffs by 10 percent each year. Currently, the customs tariffs applicable in the AFTA are reduced by 40 percent.
Badran, who was accompanying the Jordanian delegation, headed by ministers of trade and industry and agriculture Wasif Azar and Zuhair Zannouneh, said an accord might be sealed during an expected meeting of the Jordanian-Saudi committee tentatively set for June.
She added that the two sides also discussed facilitating land transport and enhancing the import of Jordanian agricultural produce and potential joint ventures including in the mining industry, but that “nothing has been signed yet.”
The Jordanian delegation, mostly grouping businessmen, also presented their Saudi counterparts with the draft Investment Protection Agreement which seeks to safeguard the private sector's projects in the two destinations. Both the land transport accord and the draft are expected to be approved during the committee's meeting, she explained.
Official figures estimate Saudi investments in the Kingdom at $89 million. According to Badran, trade “is balanced,” with two-way trade revolving around $300 million annually. — ( Jordan Times )
By Rana Awwad
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)