Global donors pledge $1.8bn as Jordan goes through economic transition

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II poses for a photograph with Crown Prince Hussein of Jordan (L), Queen Rania of Jordan (2nd L) and King Abdullah II of Jordan (2nd R) and Britain's Princess Anne, Princess Royal (R), during a private audience at Buckingham Palace in central London, on February 28, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 09 March 2019

Global donors pledge $1.8bn as Jordan goes through economic transition

  • Jordan is at a transition point and it’s economy has been growing steadily for the past couple of years
  • But now there is a huge growth potential, according to the UN

LONDON: Jordan will introduce a slew of economic reforms to help its subsidy-supported economy escape the crippling burden of taking in more than a million refugees.
But planners must ensure that well-meaning policies do not punish the people they aim to protect, warn analysts. 
International donors last week pledged over $1.8 billion as part of the London Initiative at the Jordan: Growth and Opportunity conference, hosted by the UK government. Britain also announced it was underwriting a $250 million World Bank loan to make it easier for Jordan to borrow at lower interest rates. 
“We at the UN would like to be part of this journey and partner with the private sector to generate even more investments for the Jordanian economy,” said Nikolaj Gilbert, director of Partnerships Practice Group at the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS).
“Jordan is at a transition point and it’s economy has been growing steadily for the past couple of years but now there is a huge growth potential,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said that the UN and UNOPS will help bring in investments into Jordan by introducing de-risking projects and help convince institutional investors that Jordan is the place to go because the workforce is extremely capable and qualified.

“We are here to support education and equip schools with technology and teaching materials so that the Jordanian and the Syrian population and the refugees in Jordan can attend schools and have quality education.

Young Syrian refugees carry their chairs into a classroom at a UNICEF-run school in the al-Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq. (AFP)

“Beyond that we are also doing ICT projects and empowering women through training programs for start-ups, where the women in Jordan can also help to create a positive change in the Jordanian economy,” he said.
UNOPS helps Jordan’s government and its international partners to respond to the impact of the Syrian crisis.
“Beyond that we are also doing ICT projects and empowering women through training programs for start-ups, where the women in Jordan can also help to create a positive change in the Jordanian economy,” he said.
Jordan’s economy has been battered by the fallout from conflicts in neighboring Syria and Iraq. The country has taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and has the second-highest share of refugees compared to population in the world.
At the same time, tax hikes introduced to meet International Monetary Fund (IMF) targets to reduce Jordan’s debt burden have triggered widespread protests.

Jordanian police face off demonstrators during a protest near the prime minister’s office in Amman, Jordan, on June 6, 2018. (AFP)

Now the country is picking up the pace of reform, according to information minister Jumana Ghuneimat.
“We have a program with the World Bank for the next five years to implement many reforms and steps to remove the challenges that are facing investment in Jordan and provide a friendly investment environment to have growth in the future and to build a real opportunity for Jordan,” she said.
Over the past decade, Jordan has pursued a number of sometimes painful structural reforms in education and health, as well as privatization and liberalization. The kingdom has also introduced social protection systems and reformed subsidies, creating the conditions for public-private partnerships in infrastructure and making tax reforms. 
However, further progress is needed so that such reforms lead to concrete outcomes.
The Jordan-World Bank program aims to raise economic participation for women, reduce the cost of fuel and make the Jordanian economy more competitive in the region. 
“We want to tell the international community that Jordan has the capacity and skills to work in the civil sectors and especially in the services sector,” the information minister said.
The World Bank is optimistic about Jordan’s economic future and is committed to the five-year IMF-backed economic consolidation program that includes implementing tough reforms.
“Our engagement with Jordan is a far-reaching, long-haul type of commitment. It aims to frame a new set of reforms that would create jobs,” said Ferid BelHajj, vice president of the Middle East and North Africa at the World Bank.

Syrian refugees attend a sewing class as part of a UN project at the Azraq camp for Syrian refugees in northern Jordan. (AFP)

However, economic analyst Mostafa Al-Bazerghan said Jordan’s economy suffers from many problems and faces challenges associated with the conditions set by the IMF.
“There is the problem of government subsidies for basic goods and fuel, there are also proposals for support from the IMF or loans, but the social situation cannot tolerate the implementation of the IMF’s conditions,” said Al-Bazerghan.
Jordan has youth unemployment of almost 40 percent, possesses few natural resources and is burdened with 1.3 million Syrian refugees on top of the longstanding Palestinian influx.
The World Bank’s BelHajj said that the Jordanian government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Omar Al-Razzaz, had been courageous in pushing reforms that are not popular, but will transform the Jordanian economy.
“This reform must be carried out because Jordan is an important part of the Middle East economy. It is necessary to reduce the economy’s dependence on government subsidies,” Al-Bazerghan said.
The analyst cited three main priorities — reduction of subsidies, supporting those who are vulnerable to the loss of subsidies and encouraging the private sector to invest.

However, he also said that Jordan has a great responsibility that developed with the Syrian and Iraqi crises.

“There is regional support today. Iraq started supplying Jordan with crude oil at reduced prices.”

The Jordanian government revealed preferential tariffs offered by Iraq for supplying oil to Jordan as part of economic partnerships signed by the two countries.

In streaming wars, Disney reaches beyond kids and families

Updated 12 November 2019

In streaming wars, Disney reaches beyond kids and families

  • Disney’s marketing force is reaching beyond its traditional family audience to send a message that its $7-a-month subscription service Disney+ offers something for all ages

LOS ANGELES: During commercial breaks in a broadcast of World Wrestling Entertainment’s WWE SmackDown, fans were shown ads for Walt Disney Co’s new streaming service, Disney+. So were “Monday Night Football” viewers and video gamers watching Twitch.
“Try to keep up,” said Captain Marvel in one ad after a series of fast-paced clips from “Star Wars,” “The Simpsons,” “The Avengers” and other Disney-owned hits from outside of its deep catalogue of children’s classics.
Disney’s marketing force is reaching beyond its traditional family audience to send a message that its $7-a-month subscription service Disney+ offers something for all ages. The service debuted on Tuesday in the United States, Canada and The Netherlands.
“It’s incumbent upon us to market it the right way to emphasize the fact that it’s not just for kids,” Disney executive Kevin Mayer said during a briefing at the company’s Burbank, California, headquarters. “It’s all family friendly, but everyone can enjoy this product.”
Disney has told investors it can hook 60 million to 90 million customers within about five years as it competes for customers in a crowded streaming market dominated by Netflix Inc. 
Signing up adults who do not have children at home is part of that plan.
Consumers may not realize that after a series of acquisitions Disney is much more than classics like “Cinderella” and “Mary Poppins” that charmed generations of families. The company now owns the celebrated “Star Wars” movie franchise; Iron Man, the Hulk and dozens of other Marvel superheroes; “Toy Story” animation house Pixar, and nature programming channel National Geographic.
Previously released movies and TV series from all of those brands, plus 30 seasons of “The Simpsons,” are available on Disney+ alongside decades of Disney’s family-centric offerings.
Disney+ also offers new programming from those brands.
To raise awareness, the company is promoting Disney+ during sports and primetime TV telecasts to get in front of what Hollywood calls the four quadrants of viewers: male, female, young and old.
“We’re unmatched in quality and appeal across our four-quadrant audience spanning a variety of genres, formats and arenas, and will continue to build on that year after year,” said Ricky Strauss, president of content and marketing for Disney+.
In addition to the wrestling, football and gaming contests, ads ran during the World Series and the ABC News late-night program “Nightline,” and on social media networks.
Early testing in The Netherlands, where Disney offered a free two-month trial of Disney+, attracted a “very large and diverse audience,” said Mayer, who runs Disney’s direct-to-consumer and international unit.
“Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD,” a series aimed at 18- to 49-year olds, ranked as the most-watched piece of content, Mayer said. Next was tween-oriented show “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody” followed by “Disney’s Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” a cartoon for young children.
“Our hypothesis was we will have a lot of different types of viewership, that it’s not going to be centered among any one of our brands,” Mayer said. “It’s quite a nice confirmation of what we want accomplished.”
The initial response in The Netherlands has cheered industry analysts.
“They have some surprising and encouraging signs about this potential that Disney+ is not just kids and family,” Forrester analyst Jim Nail said.
But unlike Netflix, Disney+ limits how far its programming will go to attract older viewers. To keep it family friendly, the service will not have any R-rated movies or TV shows designated TV-MA for mature audiences.
Programming considered too adult for Disney+ may stream on Hulu, which Disney also owns. That will include FX series such as “American Horror Story” and “Fargo” and possibly movies starring Deadpool, a Marvel character known for foul-mouthed humor, when rights become available.
“There are boundaries to what we’ll put on Disney+,” Mayer said. “’Deadpool’ is definitely not for Disney+.”