King Abdullah II: Jordan still safe for investors

Despite the ongoing political unrest roiling the Middle East, Jordan is a safe destination for investment, insists King Abdullah II of Jordan.

"We have a history over many decades of Jordan always being stable throughout the region, whatever the crises are," Abdullah said in an interview with CNBC.

"We've always said that wherever there have been problems in the region, Jordan doesn't use that as an excuse not to move forward. Whether it's economic reform or political reform, I keep telling our people that it's business as usual and we shouldn't shy away," he added.

Jordan's economy expanded 3.1 percent in 2014, up from 2.8 percent in the previous year, helped by lower energy prices and looser monetary policy.

"We are expecting 4 percent over the next two or three years. Our reserves in the central bank are the highest they have ever been," he added.


Iraq opening up

This summer, he expects the Iraqi government, along with its coalition partners, to reopen the route between Baghdad and Amman, a move that will restore a key trade link between the two neighbors.

Iraq is an important export market for Jordan, representing 20 percent of total Jordanian exports, according to the World Bank.

OBAMA ABDULLAH
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"I believe that the Iraqi government, with the coalition forces, is going to open the route between Amman and Baghdad this summer. That is a very strong market that is going to be reopened," Abdullah said.

Jordan's overland trade with neighboring Iraq has been severely curtailed over the past year due to the security challenges in Iraq's Anbar province, which links the two countries.

Militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) have seized large parts of the territory and extorted large transit fees for vehicles passing through, according to the Financial Times.

Where's the economy headed?

While the economy is holding up, it faces grave challenges amid a high rate of unemployment – at 12.9 percent - and an influx of Syrian refugees which has put a strain on resources and resulted in higher state spending.

There are over 608,000 Syrian refugees registered in Jordan with an estimated 85 percent residing outside of refugee camps.

Jordan
Tracking the outlook of Jordan   

"That's a burden on the Jordanian economy," he said, adding that the inflow of refugees has also ramped up the country's energy requirements.

"Because of the lack of gas that we get from Egypt, we have had to move quickly. This has always been a secret of Jordan, being able to adapt to all the challenges that we have had. That's why you are seeing a major investment into alternative energy," he said.

Disruptions in the flow of gas from Egypt have emerged as a major headache for Jordan, which imports about 95 percent of its energy needs.

Jordan vs. Dubai

When asked why investors should choose Jordan instead of Dubai, a more stable alternative in the region, Abdullah pointed to the country's valuable human capital.

"What has always made Jordan successful is the investment into human capital," he said.

King Abdullah II of Jordan on the refugee crisis
King Abdullah II of Jordan on the refugee crisis   

Jordan is home to thriving ICT and medical tourism sectors, he said, setting it apart from its neighbors.

"Many countries in the region are supported by the Jordanian talent. That's the capital that we have, and I think that's what sets us apart from other countries," he added.