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Economist: Syrian businesses in Jordan, A bittersweet opportunity

AS THE 2011 Syrian uprising escalated, investors held their breath. Now, with the likelihood of a protracted conflict increasing, Syrian businesses are flocking to Jordan. 

In 2012 the Jordan Investment Board (JIB) registered 114m dinars ($161m) of Syrian investment in the Kingdom, up from 3m dinars the previous year. A further 49m dinars of investment was registered in the first half of 2013, The Economist reported.

Most of the early arrivals were small and medium-sized enterprises. Scattered within the manufacturing sector, they included textile companies, drinks-makers and confectioners.

“Syrians are skilled craftsmen. They’re great with their hands,” says Yusuf Mansur, a Jordanian economist. “Big brands like Nafisa [a confectioner] and Bakdash [an ice-cream maker] are flourishing here.”

Bakdash, the oldest and most famous ice-cream firm in Syria, continues trading in Damascus, but has opened a pair of franchises in Jordan over the past year. Demand was so high that the Amman branch (pictured) ran out of ice cream and had to close temporarily, soon after its opening in May this year.

Some companies have moved their entire operation to Jordan. Durra, a food giant, relocated its headquarters and production base from Syria to Jordan a year ago, opening two factories at the Al-Hassan industrial estate, north of Amman. “We’re employing more than 400 staff and looking to expand,” says Alaa Khalifa, a Durra administrator. “We’re also opening a new factory in Egypt very soon but the situation looks uncertain now. Jordan is a safer bet,” he says to The Economist.

 At the heart of a combustible region, Jordan’s relative calm is alluring to investors, who crave stability. “In 2013 we’re witnessing an influx of more serious investments, particularly in the medical and pharmaceutical sectors,” says Awni al-Rashoud, head of the JIB. “Many of these are creating jobs: they’re labour intensive projects. And they add value to our economy. We’ve received 650,000 refugees and we’d like to welcome more Syrian investors who can help create jobs for Jordanians and non-Jordanians,” The economist report said.

Mr Rashoud’s optimism is a rare counterpoint to the dominant political narrative in Jordan, that the Syrian influx is stretching Jordan's meagre resources beyond capacity. Some Jordanian MPs have called for the border to be closed and for a "buffer zone" for refugees to be established in southern Syria.

The UN’s Economic and Social Commission for West Asia reported this month that Syrians constitute 11% of Jordan’s population and have cost the state 468m dinars so far, with other costs being met by foreign aid organisations. The strain on Jordan's infrastructure is real, but Mr Mansur argues that refugees shouldn’t be held responsible. “Jordan has benefited from refugees for a long time, in ‘48 and ‘67," he says. "When the Iraqis came after 2003, these were our boom years. It’s a myth that Syrians are behind our energy shortageswe’ve always had water problems. Demonising these people is just vulgar.”

Zaman Alwasl
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