Viewing cable 03AMMAN1550

03AMMAN15502003-03-13 16:18:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Amman
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 AMMAN 001550 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/11/2013 
     ¶B. 02 AMMAN 6535 
Classified By: Ambassador Edward W. Gnehm, reasons 1.5 (b,d) 
¶1.  (c)  The GOJ paints a gloomy picture of predicted heavy 
losses to the transport sector during hostilities in Iraq, 
totaling over $44 million monthly as a result of higher 
insurance charges and decreased business volumes.  Following 
war, though, the consensus opinion is that the sector will 
enjoy a boom, followed by sustained increases in business 
over a 3-5 year period as Iraq's commercial sector re-opens 
and a new Iraqi government starts to rebuild infrastructure. 
A short, successful military campaign that opens the doors 
for rebuilding Iraqi infrastructure and commerce will help 
minimize the short-term economic and social pain in Jordan 
from an Iraq war - pain that will be disproportionately felt 
by Jordan's 13,000 truckers and by transport sector-dependent 
local economies in the southern reaches of the kingdom, 
notably Ma'an and Aqaba.  End summary. 
¶2.  (c)  Transport Ministry officials have made gloomy 
calculations for the costs to the transport sector and to 
government revenues in the event of war in Iraq (ref a). 
According to Transportation Ministry Secretary General Ala'a 
Batayneh, all elements of Jordanian transport - sea, air, and 
land - will incur substantial monthly losses during a war. 
Most of these costs will result from lost business as a 
result of the area being declared a "war risk" zone for 
insurance purposes.  Such a designation, Batayneh said, would 
cause shipping lines to stop calling on Aqaba (with knock-on 
effects on truckers) and would similarly sharply curtail air 
traffic to and over Jordan, all because of increased 
insurance costs. 
¶3.  (c)  In addition to insurance-related losses, Batayneh 
said the GOJ expects all cargo traffic (both domestic exports 
and transit traffic) to Iraq to cease once war starts, with 
the expectation that the border will be closed and truckers 
will in any event be unwilling to make the trip.  Such a loss 
of traffic would, Batayneh said, force the GOJ to support 
out-of-work truckers with a "social safety net" until 
business could resume.  According to Batayneh, the total 
MONTHLY cost to the sector would amount to $44.46 million, 
while the total MONTHLY cost to the central government would 
be at least $5.2 million, excluding additional social safety 
net payments. 
¶4.  (c)  Private sector contacts share this gloomy 
assessment.  Mahmoud Zoubi, Chairman of the Association of 
Owners of Transport Vehicles (which represents Jordan's 
11,000 independent truckers), said wartime losses would 
devastate the sector, putting most of his members out of work 
and impacting the "90% of Jordan's population" that relies 
directly or indirectly on transportation.  (According to 
Zoubi, the best-case scenario for Jordan would be an Iraq 
free of sanctions but still ruled by Saddam, who has 
"benefited every Jordanian citizen.")  Representatives of 
Jordan's largest trucking companies, however, are somewhat 
less concerned.  Salim Naber of the Odeh Naber Transport 
Company, which handles virtually all specialized and oversize 
cargo to Iraq, told us that even during a war there is likely 
to be enough business to keep truckers employed at current 
levels, due to the need to transport humanitarian supplies 
and still-pending OFF contract shipments to Iraq.  Similarly, 
Mohanned Qudah, Director of the Jordan-Syria Land Transport 
Company, said his business would be virtually unaffected by 
war, though the increased availability of underemployed 
private truckers would give him more opportunities to 
subcontract for business between Damascus and Amman. 
¶5.  (c)  Captain Mohammed Dalabieh of the Shipping Agents' 
Association said that inbound cargo was unlikely to be 
severely affected by war risk designation and higher 
insurance charges, as those charges would either be passed on 
to end-users (Jordanian consumers or relief agencies) or 
would be absorbed by the shippers to maintain relations with 
Jordanian importers.  Exports, though, could be affected - 
particularly phosphate and potash, where increased charges 
would likely translate into higher per-ton charges for the 
cargo (during the Afghan war, $4/ton was the increase).  Raw 
materials like phosphate and potash, Dalabieh said, are 
extremely price-sensitive, with increases of even 50 cents 
hurting competitiveness.  Increased charges on the order of 
$4 could make Jordanian phosphate uncompetitive and thus hurt 
the Phosphate company's operations as long as war risk 
designation remains in place.  (Note:  phosphates and potash 
together represent Jordan's largest export sector, totaling 
over $320 million in each of the last three years, or 25-30% 
of total exports.  End note.) 
¶6.  (c)  Local shipping operator Amin Kawar was more sanguine 
- he does not believe import or export cargo will be affected 
even during war.  He said both insurance companies and 
shippers had a great deal of discretion in applying insurance 
charges, and would likely absorb most of the increased costs 
in the short term to maintain normal business.  He said QIZ 
shipments would not be impacted, as there is excess capacity 
for container export out of Aqaba, and since QIZ containers 
are relatively high-value goods ($50,000 per 40-foot 
container), even paying the estimated increased shipping 
charges of $150 per container would not affect exporters' 
bottom line. 
¶7.  (c)  While there are variations in opinion over damage to 
the transport sector during combat operations, there is a 
broad consensus on the likely "boom" in the sector once the 
war is over and Iraq opens its markets and begins to rebuild 
its infrastructure, and aid agencies continue to care for 
displaced populations and to alleviate hunger and poverty in 
Iraq proper.  Even Zoubi, whose constituents benefit most 
from the current arrangement, would not discount the 
opportunities after regime change. 
¶8.  (c)  GOJ and private sector contacts attribute a number 
of factors to the prospective boom:  First and foremost, 
Aqaba will, they believe, once again become a "natural" port 
for Iraq.  Iraqi ports, they believe, are underdeveloped 
after 20  years of warfare and sanctions, and cannot possibly 
handle the volume of imports expected to flood into the 
country after the war.  Similarly, Mediterranean ports like 
Lattakia, Tartus, and Beirut are relatively small, 
inefficient ports that will be able to handle some, but by no 
means all, of the import activity.  By contrast, Aqaba is a 
relatively large, much more efficient port, that was built up 
in the 1980's with the Iraq market in mind.  Aqaba also has 
spare capacity both in its general cargo and container 
terminals, so it should be able to handle a significant 
increase in business.  And even after the initial boom, and 
taking into account likely increased port activity in the 
Gulf geared toward the Iraqi market, Aqaba should continue to 
be a significant port for Iraq, particularly for high-value 
and oversize cargo from Asia, owing to its efficiency and 
reputation - a sort of "branding". 
¶9.  (c)  This increase in port activity will by definition 
lead to an increase in land transport opportunities.  An 
initial boom followed by a sustained rise in transit cargo 
activity should keep Jordan's land transport fleet of 13,000 
(11,000 independent plus 2,000 company-owned) fully occupied 
for the foreseeable future.  Zoubi and Qudah both noted to us 
that, prior to 1990, Jordan was handling 4 million tons of 
transit cargo to Iraq annually, a number that fell to 500,000 
tons under sanctions.  With this as a baseline, the sector 
should be well-employed. 
¶10. (c)  Indeed, the one worry here is that, in the short 
term, there will not be enough trucks in Jordan to handle the 
increased transport demand.  The initial boom, say private 
sector contacts, is likely to outstrip the ability of 
Jordan's aging trucking fleet to deliver humanitarian 
supplies AND rebuilding materials AND normal commercial 
cargo. The World Food Program, for instance, has been 
shopping for contracts to supply 3,000 trucks just for its 
projected operations following the war.  This is in addition 
to what is expected to be "normal" business.  These worries 
extend to the logistics side of import operations - while the 
port has the spare capacity, some contacts are not confident 
that the road and loading infrastructure in Aqaba can handle 
the increased traffic (though the recent completion of a 
secondary freight highway around the outskirts of Aqaba 
should alleviate some of that strain).  This bottleneck will 
likely slow delivery times in the short term, until truckers 
adapt to the increased business volume by cutting down 
delivery times and increasing the number of runs they make 
each month. 
¶11.  (c)  The transport sector is a primary revenue generator 
for Jordan's economy.  In addition to directly supporting 
13,000 truckers and their families - most of them politically 
conservative East Bank tribal types - the sector also 
supports thousands of families in aviation, tourism, port 
operations, and the like.  To the extent that war dampens 
activity in the transport sector, it will not only make those 
thousands worse off, it will have knock-on effects throughout 
the economy.  Reduced exports could threaten jobs at the 
potash mining company, for example, and pass-through 
insurance charges on inbound cargo that affect retail prices 
would effectively tax consumption.  This could have an 
important impact on government revenue and ultimately 
contribute to a downward spiral in economic activity. 
¶12.  (c)  Equally importantly, losses to the transport sector 
would be felt disproportionately in different parts of the 
country.  Transport and mining dominate the economies of the 
southern cities of Ma'an and Aqaba, for example.  They would 
therefore feel the economic pain much more deeply - pain that 
could compound already high social tensions and anger toward 
the government that, in Ma'an at least, has already led to 
violent clashes (ref b). 
¶13.  (c)  The key to minimizing damage to Jordan's economy 
and rejuvenating the sector will be a short, successful war 
in Iraq that starts aid and commerce flowing into Baghdad and 
allows the new Iraqi government to start contracting for 
infrastructure supplies.  The losses from war should be 
reversed in short order once commerce and rebuilding begin. 
Whatever their feelings about the relative merits of Saddam 
or USG policy, many Jordanians are at the point where they 
simply want to put the uncertainty behind them.  As Salim 
Naber told us, "if you're going to hit him, hit him hard and 
get it over with."