Jordanian Minister of Trade and Industry Wasif Azar is due to leave to Iraq this week on a visit which many expect would pave the way for the visit of Prime Minister Ali Abul Ragheb to Baghdad early next month, industrialists and government officials said on Thursday.
While Azar said that his visit to Iraq is merely to attend the Baghdad International Fair, industrialists said that Abul Ragheb is expected to fly to Baghdad next week in the first such flight since the 1990-91 Gulf war.
“My visit is purely to attend the exhibition and has nothing to do with the premier's visit,” Azar told the Jordan Times. “I will meet with Iraqi officials, but nothing is scheduled at the moment,” the minister added. Azar declined to comment further.
A well-informed industrialist said that Abul Ragheb will fly next week to Iraq onboard a Jordanian airplane, “which will pave the way for other Arab leaders to undertake similar steps.” The industrialist said Abul Ragheb will head the Jordanian delegation to the meetings of Iraq-Jordan Higher Committee which will review the trade relationship between Amman and Baghdad.
During Abul Ragheb's expected visit to Iraq, the two sides are scheduled to discuss the renewal of the annual oil protocol, which Amman and Baghdad agreed earlier to increase to $600 million. Among other issues, Jordan is expected to push Iraq to use the Kingdom's southern port as a major hub for its imports, which is receiving tough competition from other ports in the region.
In addition, the industrialist told the Jordan Times that the government has started importing sulphur from Iraq, which will reduce production costs for the phosphate industry in the Kingdom. The US has repeatedly objected to the import of sulphur from Iraq and extended continuous pressures on the Kingdom to refrain from improving trade ties with its eastern neighbor.
“We have demanded from the Americans on different occasions to ease their objections and allow us to import necessary inputs for our industry from Iraq,” another industrialist said. “I think they have accepted this demand and we have started to import sulphur from Iraq,” he added.
The relationship with Iraq, the Kingdom's largest trade partner, has increasingly improved following a visit by Iraq's Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan on July 15, where the Iraqi official met with King Abdullah.
On September 27, the first Jordanian flight landed in Iraq, paving the way for similar steps by other Arab states in a bid to break the US-self-proclaimed air embargo on Iraq, which was imposed following the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Official figures showed that Jordan's mid-year exports to Iraq this year amounted to 26.2 percent of its exports to the Arab world compared to 18 percent in the same period of 1999. Jordan's imports from Iraq amounted to 67.2 percent of its imports from Arab states in the first six months of this year, which amounted to 290 million Jordanian dinars (JD).
Official figures showed that Iraq's imports through Aqaba Port in the first seven months of this year amounted to 28,482 tones compared to 6.8 million tones in 1988 and 2.8 million tones in 1983. — ( Jordan Times )
By Tareq Ayyoub
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)