Experts welcome new Aqaba agreements

Deals could be a turning point for the special zone

A general view of the Aqaba container terminal. (Photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — The signing of five new agreements and memoranda of understanding between Aqaba Development Corporation (ADC) and Abu Dhabi Ports Group (ADPG) on Sunday was met with mixed reaction by experts.اضافة اعلان

The new agreements aim to develop Aqaba's Marsa Zayed area, cruise ship terminals, digitize the ports’ systems, build a multi-purpose port, and modernize King Hussein International Airport (KHIA).

Former commissioner of Aqaba Special Zone, Mohammad Saqer, welcomed this type of collaboration with the UAE`.  He told Jordan News that each agreement would serve Aqaba in a number of ways. The deals will create new jobs, enabling Aqaba to compete with Jeddah and Suez and developing Aqaba to become a major regional tourist hub, he said.

"These new deals will upgrade Aqaba ports capabilities amid tense competition with Jeddah and the Suez Canal,” Saqer added.

Mazen Irsheid, an economic expert, told Jordan News that he agrees with Saqer on the significance of such agreements and how new projects will reduce unemployment and enhance Aqaba’s infrastructure, which in turn will attract further investments. In his view the timing of the deals is significant as they were made during a world crisis because of the effects of the pandemic.

"The best time to invest is in the time of a crisis, especially for the tourism sector. Great ideas are born from a crisis. These projects will be a turning point for Jordan," Irsheid said.

Economic expert, Mifleh Aqel, was also optimistic about Jordan's tourism prospects in the coming years. He noted that the development of Marsa Zayed will revive the special zone. “By building hotels and recreational areas, attracting cruise ships, more tourist flights and investments, the positive effect on employment will be felt,” he said.

"Aqaba may be on its way to become the region's industrial and commercial center," former minister of State for Economic Affairs, Yusuf Mansur, said. But he voiced his concern that this may also be another agreement that stays on paper.

"I ask everyone in Jordan to remember that these deals will take time to materialize, so people should not expect to see investors pumping JD10 billion in the market tomorrow,” Mansur said.  “So I ask our officials not over-promise because if they fail to deliver people will stop believing them” he added.

Mansur does not believe that these agreements will enable Aqaba to compete with Jeddah and Suez. Instead, he suggests that Aqaba should focus on becoming a niche instead of attempting to compete with major powers like Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypt.

"The Emirates will not give us something to compete with their own ports, and they will not disrupt Saudi's dominance on the Red Sea," Mansur said. "We can have a niche like developing small boat maintenance platform. We should focus on special investments instead,” he added.

He considers that there should be a focus on connecting Aqaba to the rest of the Kingdom through a modern railway system, which would change the face of the country and increase productivity. 

Mansur hopes that the agreements will get implemented and officials will monitor projects’ developments. "I hope they will follow up and implement. We are tired of announcements that don't materialize; enough is enough. What we need is implementation," he said.

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