Jordan-US FTA and the road ahead

Khalid Dalal (Photo: Jordan News)
In December this year, Jordan and the United States will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries going into effect, a year after it was signed.اضافة اعلان

It is worth celebrating indeed, as the partnership has been, without a doubt, a success story that still has potential for more achievements, and stands out as an icon of the fruitful and strategic ties between the two allies.

In fact, Jordan was the first Arab country to sign such a deal with the economic giant, a fact that speaks volumes about the significance of the Kingdom in the eyes of our US partners and friends. As always with achievements of this caliber, the lucrative deal was championed by His Majesty King Abdullah II with the full support of the Clinton Administration.

The figures speak for themselves: The FTA pushed up the volume of bilateral trade exchange by 800 percent over the years, and placed the US among the top five trade partners of Jordan. In 2020, a pandemic year, the volume of Jordan's exports to the US stood at $1.7 billion, including $1.3 billion in garment exports alone. In 2017, the exports peaked to $3.6 billion.

The blessings are countless. Thousands of jobs have been created, and Jordan has become a destination for investors seeking to take advantage of the FTA to access the US, the largest consumer market in the world.

Have we done enough to tap this historic opportunity? This is a question that should be left to experts and market actors to answer, but so far so good, according to almost all the relevant literature and expert opinions. What we are certain about is that the agreement was a lynchpin in the Jordan-US ties, not only at the economic level, but also at the strategic and political ones. In the words of US Ambassador to Jordan Henry Wooster, as the two partners celebrated the 20th anniversary of signing the treaty last year, "the US-Jordanian free trade agreement is a testament to the special relationship between our two countries." A more important question is: Can we do better?

Ambassador Wooster added that “the FTA is a powerful tool with untapped potential to spur economic growth and prosperity for both our nations. We must work together to find ways to maximize the potential the FTA offers."

In the same online gathering, Minister of Industry, Trade, and Supply Maha Al-Ali agreed. The FTA, she said, "continues to offer business opportunities for both countries." Ali emphasized Jordan's "commitment to improving government services and offer opportunities for the private sector to grow, while focusing on assisting the companies to overcome current challenges."

Acknowledging the existence of challenges is the best start of the third decade in the life of the FTA. What should be done now is to find ways to pinpoint the loopholes, and draw up a strategy with set objectives and a fixed timeframe to address them and unleash the said potential. Jordan needs that badly in the post-COVID era, and the US partner will also benefit from the rectification.

Perhaps the most practical move now is to bring together all stakeholders in a conference to discuss the future roadmap for the FTA. Officials from both sides, members of the chambers of commerce and industry, investors, jurists, labor leaders, environmentalists, and all others can sit and discuss, with utter objectivity, what has gone right and what has gone wrong and ways to capitalize on this experience to do things better.

Do not forget to invite young Jordanians and Americans to the deliberations — business students mainly, because all of this is about them, at the end of the day.

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