|The Jordanian Stone sector: Big leap forward|
|Jordanian Stone exports reached $25 million. According to an estimation undertaken by Eng. Ziad Abbasi SMG manager for Stone Sector in the Euro-Jordanian Export Programme (EJEP), Jordanian stone exports are likely to double especially after the signing of bilateral trade agreements with the US and Europe. |
Mr Abbasi illustrated that sales of the stone sector, which employs around 4,000 workers, increased by 30 percent in 2005, compared to 2004.
This promising sector is foreseen to play an active role in sustaining the national economy especially in view of the availability of high quality raw material such as the Ajloun, Sahrawi (of desert), Hallabat, Travertine and Karaki. Abbasi added that this sector is capable of absorbing a relatively high percentage of the local labor force.
However, there are many challenges and obstacles which need to be overcome before the products of this sector are exported to world markets. The export marketing strategy study, which was accomplished by international and local experts, over the last 12 months, throws light on the impressive development that this sector has witnessed. And it gave an insight into certain subjects such as the capability of the sector to develop itself and to expand to foreign markets; its dialogue with the government and how serious is the government in supporting this sector; and finally whether the Jordan Stone and Tile Exporters Association (JOSTONE) succeeded in attracting all firms within this sector.
The study recorded the achievements of this sector which has succeeded in organizing itself under the umbrella of JOSTONE, increasing its exports significantly, and expanding its markets to include the US, Europe South East Asia in addition to the Arab markets. Although governmental support to this sector has been below expectations, however public interest started to grow especially during last April when it became evident that this sector is capable of exporting over $100 million annually.
Nevertheless laws governing the issuance of licenses for stone excavation did not develop, in addition to the many prohibitive constraints applied by the Ministry of Environment over the utilization of the Ajloun Stone in particular, given the lack of any geographical survey of the Ajloun region. The present system of licensing allows excavation for a fixed period of six months only and to a depth not exceeding 5 meters. The environmental challenge presents itself in how best to coordinate between the optimum utilization of the Ajloun region without compromising the ecological balance. And as EJEP shares the government’s interest in this sector without transgressing on the environment, its incessant campaigning has led to the formation of the Ajloun Committee which is presided over by the Minister of Industry and Trade, and with a technical subcommittee to tackle the sector’s problems and also to carry out a mapping survey of the Ajloun region so that quarries in the future do not infringe on the environment or tourism.
The Committee arranged a visit to Spain to examine the Spanish experience in stone excavation while conserving the environment. In cooperation with Royal Scientific Society, EJEP has initiated a program for the local firms to obtain the European CE-Marking certificates which allow these firms to absorb European needs and to supply the stone sector with much needed expertise. Abbasi announced that JOSTONE, in collaboration with EJEP, has embarked on a five-year plan to increase exports of stone, marble and tiles to $100 million annually.
Mechanisms have been set up to evaluate foreign markets in addition to the establishment of information and study bank, training and rehabilitation programs in addition to the rehabilitation of existing firms to produce stones according to international specifications, noting that many international firms have exhibited great interest in building trading relations with Jordanian firms. This sector has succeeded in attracting investments worth JD5 million as a result of the extensive contacts by EJEP’s experts in addition to EJEP’s efforts that guaranteed the distinguished presence of the Jordanian stone in international exhibitions. “Jordan misses the opportunity to export stone products worth hundreds of millions due to the difficulties of opening new stone quarries,” said Abbasi.
Also, Abbasi declared that dialogue channels have been opened with the Ministry of Environment in order to utilize this sector, taking into consideration the conservation of the natural environment. He added that EJEP seeks, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, to overcome the consequential damage through reforestation. To achieve this, it is imperative to develop special laws for this sector, and to preserve the huge reserves of stone and marble from illegal quarries. In the absence of such laws that optimize the proper utilization of stone, infringing on the environment and even archeological sites becomes widespread if conditions remain as they are presently.
Abbasi pointed out to other difficulties facing this sector such as shortage of skilled labor and stiff competition. EJEP, with the participation of all concerned bodies, has advanced recommendations for investment in this sector and has held discussions to lay down a clear applicable action plan in addition to appointing a neutral entity with the authority to oversee the execution of the said plan. It also encourages all parties to coordinate their efforts in order to boost exports, by removing all obstacles that impede local and foreign investments in this vital sector. Ziad Abbasi is SMG manager, Stone Sector, at EJEP.
Amman,04 10 2006