[Debate] Jordan: Israeli Potato Invasion Revives Resistance to Normalization
Riaz K Tayob
riaz.tayob at gmail.com
Tue Jan 24 16:12:41 GMT 2012
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Jordan: Israeli Potato Invasion Revives Resistance to Normalization
Jordan's King Abdullah II (R) meets with Israeli President Shimon Peres
at the Royal Palace in Amman on 28 October 2011, during the latter's
official visit to the neighboring desert kingdom. (Photo: AFP - HO - PETRA)
By: Muhammad Farhan
Published Friday, January 20, 2012
US-led normalization efforts are taking a toll on the Jordanian potato
farmers as Israeli potatoes have flooded the market, threatening local
Amman – Jordan is in the middle of an intense debate about why its
markets were flooded with Israeli potatoes, threatening local products
from the Ghor region of the Jordan Valley.
A similar debate emerged during the olive harvest season, when the
amount of exported olives from Jordan to Israel had reached 11,480 tons,
before they were halted in mid-November.
By then, Israel had received more than 98% of Jordan’s olive exports,
according to the agriculture ministry.
The new year has brought an unprecedented flood of Israeli potato
shipments to Jordanian markets. This “invasion” was helped by the
agriculture ministry’s leniency in giving out import licenses to a large
number of importers of Israeli products.
By contrast, the same ministry refused to allow a shipment of Gulf
potatoes to enter Jordan.
Pleas from Jordan Valley farmers have not succeeded in getting the
agricultural ministry to reverse its decision to normalize trade with
Israel. The arguments put forward by the farmers are not just political,
they also rely on purely agricultural data.
They point out that the Israeli potato invasion of Jordanian markets
coincides with the harvest of local potatoes in the Ghor area. This is
damaging to local producers, who are forced to lower their prices in
order to compete with Israeli imports.
This has been confirmed by the director of the Union of Jordan Valley
Farmers, Adnan Khaddam, who says: “Large amounts of Israeli potatoes
entering the Jordanian market, when the local harvest is ready, has
caused our farmers to suffer from severe marketing bottlenecks,”
particularly when potatoes are the main crop for the majority of
Sources from the agriculture ministry revealed that the minister, Ahmad
al-Khattab, set up an investigation committee to deal with this issue,
which led to a halt on import licenses granted to a number of merchants.
The farmers say that this action has come too late, now that the Israeli
potatoes have already been introduced to the market.
This “agricultural invasion” is not the only economic development that
worries Jordanians who are against normalization.
There is also the phenomenon of “religious tourism,” in which some tour
operators exploit the emotions of the faithful (both Muslims and
Christians), to break their resistance to normalization.
People are tempted to visit Islamic and Christian holy places in
occupied Jerusalem, Hebron, and Nazareth.
This has led the Jordanian Higher Committee to Protect the Homeland and
Resist Normalization to issue repeated calls and warnings to tourism
companies and travel agents to “cease to organize such normalizing trips
under the excuse of religion and tourism.”
In the middle of this debate, on January 6, the Israeli newspaper
Ma’ariv, revealed that a new phase has begun in the normalization
process, saying that Jordan has agreed to sign a new Qualifying
Industrial Zone (QIZ) treaty soon.
This will include a large-scale agreement on trade cooperation with
Israel under the auspices of the United States.
The QIZ agreements aim to bring Egypt and Jordan closer to Israel by
exempting Jordanian and Egyptian exports to the US from customs charges,
on the condition that these products contain Israeli raw materials.
The Israeli newspaper said that the US had expressed its wish to support
a tripartite agreement between Tel Aviv, Washington, and Amman to
guarantee “the freedom of commercial cooperation.”
Ma’ariv added that this agreement seeks to lower the price of products
exchanged between Jordan and Israel by 10%.
This will be done by facilitating the import of raw materials or
components from the US, manufacturing them in Israel and Jordan, and
then exempting them from custom charges completely.
It is worth noting that this agreement comes as part of the Commercial
Cooperation Treaty signed by the Jordanian and Israeli governments in 1998.
This included the construction of 11 joint industrial zones, some in
Jordan and others in Bisan, a town located in the northern Palestine
that was occupied in 1948.
Economic analyst, Salama al-Diraawi, believes that the large volume, in
quantity and quality, of the exports which come from the “economy of
peace” cities agreed to in the QIZ treaty, have had no positive effects
on the Jordanian economy.
“The added value these industrial cities have brought to the Jordanian
national economy has not exceeded 15% at best. This is because these
factories depend on migrant labor, while enjoying customs exemptions and
huge advantages. This has removed any tangible content from the
so-called ‘economy of peace,’” Diraawi said.
The head of the Committee of Jordanian Clothes Exporters, Farhan Afram,
agreed with this analysis. He pointed out that “the products from the
factories set up within the framework of the ‘economy of peace’ treaty
are geared towards export to the US, because of the advantages in the
free trade treaty. They are therefore not concerned with covering the
needs of the Jordanian markets.”
As for investment, Afram believes that the presence of Israeli partners
in these factories seriously limits investment from Jordanian financiers
because the anti-normalization, professional unions, and opposition
parties continue to call for their boycott.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
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