Aqaba begins its PR push

Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) aims to create 70,000 jobs in 20 years, according to Louay Khatib, director of business development.

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By  David Ingham Published  February 25, 2003

The Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) has set itself ambitious job creation targets for the next twenty years. The ASEZA, which manages the operation of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone (ASEZ), claims that 3,000 new jobs, direct and indirect, have already been created since the zone came into existence a couple of years ago.

“Our objective for the coming 20 years is to create 70,000 jobs,” says Louay Khatib, director of business development & marketing at the ASEZA. “We are aiming in the coming three years to create 25,000 by attracting garment, textile, distribution and IT companies to the zone.”

A three year marketing plan to promote the ASEZ to investors is in the final stages of being put together. According to Khatib, key industrial sectors, countries and companies have been targeted for the campaign.

“We’ll be doing scoping missions and promotional missions for the next three years,” he says. “We have a budget and people, and we will be starting with this marketing plan at the beginning of March.”

On the surface, the ASEZ may appear to be an economic free zone just like any other, competing with lots and lots of existing zones already in the region. To that end, it offers the standard benefits of low taxes, 100% foreign ownership and simplified bureaucracy.

Closer scrutiny, however, suggest that the ASEZ may be a little bit different from the standard free zone. The very idea itself, of turning an entire city into a tax free hub, is one selling point, with management keen to emphasise the idea that Aqaba offers not just work, but also a lifestyle.

But it will take more than lifestyle and ambience to sell the ASEZA to investors and a close look reveals that Aqaba has plenty to sell. Its location at the tip of the Red Sea not only makes it the only port for Jordan, but could allow it to serve as a distribution and management hub for companies operating in Syria, Iraq and even Saudi Arabia.

The zone’s transport infrastructure includes three ports: a main port that deals with general cargo, a container port and an industrial jetty next to the Saudi border. A terminal for cruise ships is in the works.

Looking inland, Aqaba is connected via a desert highway to points North such as Amman and Syria. Saudi Arabia is only 27 kilometres away and Iraq is a straight drive across the Eastern desert. “Multi-nationals can start distributing from Aqaba to the whole Middle East,” says Khatib.

Another key thing in Aqaba’s favour is Jordan’s free trade agreement with the USA and Aqaba’s status as a ‘Qualified Industrial Zone.’ In short, companies located in the ASEZA gain tariff free entry to the US. “Such agreements could attract a lot of businesses from Asia, the Gulf and other Arab states,” says Khatib.

The proof with any project like Aqaba lies in the numbers, of course. Around 1,000 companies are registered in the ASEZA so far, 70% of which are local and 30% international. Khatib says that committed investment so far is US $1.4 billion, $1.15 billion of which has been allocated to two tourism projects.

The government itself has budgeted $750 million to develop underlying infrastructure over twenty years. The government owns 95% of the land inside the zone and will get its money back from leasing or selling the land.

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