Jordan wants more access to Palestinians economy

For Jordan, the most pressing issue is access to the Palestinian market.

"There are many non-tariff barriers on the ground that make it very difficult" to trade, said Abdul Ilah al-Khatib, Jordan's foreign minister.

According to al-Khatib, Jordan exported about $17 million worth of goods to the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1997, and about $9 million in the first half of 1998.

Those figures should be much higher, al-Khatib asserts.

"We are trying to get Israel to loosen its grip on the Palestinian economy. It is not good politically or economically," he said.

Israel restricts entry of many goods to the West Bank, based on Israeli-Palestinian economic accords that protect Israeli products.

Bureaucratic and security measures on the borders are another big barrier.

"Maybe there is red tape, like there is anywhere, but blaming us for trying to hold trade to a minimum is unfair," said Roey Gilad, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Amman.

Gilad notes that trade between Israel and Jordan has rapidly climbed from $14 million in 1996 to $32.5 million in 1997. And in the first half of 1998, it jumped by 60 percent to $20 million. Most of this bilateral trade consists of Israeli goods going into Jordan.

He added that economic cooperation secured qualified industrial-zone status for the town of Irbid, allowing duty-free exports to the United States for joint Israeli-Jordanian ventures. Joint agricultural projects and plans to open another duty-free zone that will straddle the border are also moving ahead.