Buyers’ Forum discusses challenges and opportunities in light of Syria refugee crisis

13 Apr 2016

Better Work Jordan’s annual garment buyers’ forum discusses ways to boost jobs for Jordanians as well as a pilot project to integrate Syrian refugees into the sector.

13 April 2016.

AMMAN, (ILO News) – Attending the Eighth Annual Better Work Jordan Buyers’ Forum, international buyers, as well as local and international garment sector stakeholders, discussed Wednesday (April 13) ways to achieve new milestones in the working and living conditions of the sector’s workers.

Tareq Abu Qaoud, Programme Manager of the BWJ programme – part of a partnership between the ILO and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) welcomed the audience, highlighting the growth of the sector.

“Having such a vast attendance by local and international stakeholders shows the success of Jordan’s garment sector and the renewed interest in its improvement by all its parties,” he said during the event in Amman ‪on 13 April.‬‬

Discussions included the creation of jobs for Syrian refugees in the country’s vetted qualified industrial zones, thus turning the refugee crisis into a development opportunity to attract new investments and open up the EU market with simplified rules of origin, while also ensuring the industry continues to grow by creating more jobs for Jordanians.

Unites States Deputy Chief of Mission to Jordan Henry T. Wooster underscored the strong strategic partnership between the two countries, which enjoy a free trade agreement worth over $US 1bn.

“Raising the level of working condition is crucial and we strongly believe that the implemented changes make economic sense. Milestones like the Collective Bargaining Agreement are shining beacons that catch the eyes of international investors,” Wooster said.

EU ambassador to Jordan Andrea Matteo Fontana shared this view, while also highlighting the reforms to the business relationships between the two regions to boost Jordan’s production and help the country withstand the current humanitarian crisis.

“We are available to help Jordan to face such difficult situations as the one posed by the presence of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees within its territory,” Fontana said. “We hope to reach a final decision concerning the relaxation of our rules of origin by this summer and then to implement it.”

UNHCR Deputy Representative to Jordan Paul Stromberg shed light on the newly launched pilot project in the country to include Syrians in the workforce.

“Syrians are remarkably industrious and we believe, where allowed by law, they can significantly contribute to the economy, especially because their income will be spent here and will further benefit the local communities,” he said. “We are very grateful to the government for making this possible and pleased with the collaboration with the ILO/BWJ.”

The ILO and UNHCR joined forces to arrange for 2,000 work permits to be issued to Syrian refugees, to work in Jordan’s apparel sector. In order to achieve this, the agencies are collaborating closely with the Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, the Jordan Garments, Accessories & Textiles Exporters’ Association, Chamber of Commerce, apparel manufacturers, and other agencies.

Shrugging off regional turmoil, Jordan’s garment sector continues to grow with no signs of losing momentum. The apparel industry accounts for 17 per cent of the country’s exports and surged from $700 million in 2007 to over $1.5 billion in 2015.

Haithem Khasawneh, Jordan’s Deputy Secretary-General of the Ministry of Labour, said Jordan’s garment sector had made numerous achievements throughout the years, adding that he commended the commitment of all its stakeholders. He hoped even more Jordanians would be involved in the sector in the future.

“We are trying to expand more in terms of investment in Jordan’s rural area and also to boost women’s jobs opportunities,” Khasawneh said. “We are also supporting investors to expand their businesses there. While thousands more Jordanians will be employed in rural areas in the future, we have also started facilitating the delivery of work permits to Syrians exempted from fees.”

Commenting on the sector’s growth, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Industry and Trade Yousef Al Shamali said he welcomed the simplified rules of origin regulating exports to the EU market as a way to open up more job opportunities for Jordanians.

“We want to establish four new industrial zones, aimed to attract investment both locally and internationally which have already been discussed with the EU and will take advantage of the relaxation of the rules of origin,” Al Shamali said.

Officials from World Bank and the IFC attended the first day of the Forum on Tuesday (April 12) and highlighted their engagement with the government of Jordan and upcoming projects focusing on energy and water efficiency. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development also took part in the event, presenting its future investment plan in the country.

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