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Speeches
Speech of His Majesty King Abdullah II
At the World Economic Forum "Making a Difference: A View from the Developing World"
Davos, Switzerland
30 January 2000

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a real pleasure to be able to address you today at this distinguished forum. This is the first time that Rania and I participate in the activities of this eminent and dynamic gathering, and so far, it has been a true experience of positive exchange and rewarding interaction.

We meet today soon after welcoming the arrival of the new century. It is an occasion that provides for more than the usual opportunity to pause and reflect. It is a historic moment for all of us, when we can think about where we have been, how far we have come, and, perhaps most importantly, where we are heading.

What distinguishes this change of dates in our calendar even more is the colossal transformation that has affected our basic human life in ways that are still unfolding. At the dawn of this 21st century, the pace and impact of the technological advances that have dominated the last fifty years are expected to accelerate and deepen. Technology that revolutionised industry and turned the world into a village through communications, and now virtual presence, will undoubtedly expand further to ensure that Internet access becomes universal, transforming existing patterns of commerce and developing new services and products. The global reality of the day is characterised by rapid interdependence that brings both promise and peril, and by uneven development that describes a dichotomy of achievement and affliction.

It is the reality of economics superseding politics in terms of importance and priority on the global agenda. It is a setting for a widening digital gap between developed countries, which are adapting to the new modes of technological advances, and the developing world that is at risk of being left behind. While the former lead the way in terms of penetration of personal computers, cellular telephones and Internet access, many countries around the world are still struggling with getting hard-wired phones into houses. It is also a reality, ladies and gentlemen, where over half of the world's total population struggle to survive on less than $2 a day, and where the wealthiest 20 per cent consume 66 times the total resources of the world's poorest one fifth. For those, the promise of the Internet is at best hard to achieve, and at worst a bitter illusion that widens the gap between the rich and the poor. And when the price of admission is technology that costs the equivalent of a year's salary, or more, then there is a tremendous risk that the divide between rich and poor, between those who know and those who don't, between people with a future and people without, will grow so vast that people on both sides will begin to think it is impossible to cross. As the world population grows to reach nine billion by the year 2050, the pressures of scarcity and of uneven development will inevitably lead to future conflict. The digital divide around the globe will get a lot worse before it gets any better, and private capital will continue to dominate the process of globalisation. The new century will be full of challenges and opportunities, and will therefore necessitate true vision, strong leadership, and most importantly a commitment to embrace change quickly.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Like many other developing countries, Jordan enters the new century fully aware of the challenges it poses and the opportunities it brings. We have drawn lessons from the experience of the past and continue to monitor the transformation of the present. We have therefore embraced change as a way to chart the patterns of future growth, to attain economic strength, and to secure the welfare of our people. We believe that countries succeed or fail mainly because of the productivity of their labour force, and because of their investment and government policies. But we also know that engaging the wider world economy and adapting to its rules can certainly help. Global trade and investment can aid economic development by providing new products, technologies and management skills. Capital and trade flows will go where they are most welcome and most productive. This is why we decided to join the World Trade Organisation, and why we were one of the first signatories of the association agreements with the European Union. This also explains our participation in the free trade agreement between 19 Arab countries, and our ongoing efforts to enter into a free trade agreement with the United States. In fact, Jordan's integration into the global economy follows a process of gradual and sustained reform based on self-help measures that were adopted for our own interest and not simply because they were called for by international financial institutions. These were guided by a belief that the real obligation of governments is to ensure the provision of medical, social, educational and environmental services to all citizens; a determination to limit the involvement of government in economic activities, to provide the appropriate legislative, regulatory and policy frameworks; and a commitment to satisfy the requirements of the private sector if it is to be the real engine of economic growth. They constitute pillars of our strategy of economic liberalisation, privatisation and accelerated reform, one that was born out of consensus among all the representatives of Jordanian society.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Political stability, economic reform, and the rule of law are necessary conditions for economic development, but they are not entirely sufficient ones. In the absence of true regional stability underpinned by peace and security for all in the region, development will always be short of our dreams. Despite the significance of the Middle East to the world economy, to international stability and to world peace, the community of states is only ready to invest in its future to the extent that its member countries are able to introduce political and economic reforms on the domestic scene, and to actively pursue a just and comprehensive peace on the regional level. There is an obligation on the part of the community of states to support the establishment of a new framework of regional relations that makes security a common goal, water a shared resource, and borders a meeting point of cultures, religions, and trade. It would guarantee the restoration of all rights and ensure proper compensation for those who suffered and sacrificed. For too long, political conflict, economic fragmentation, and a failure to compete in the global economy have dominated this region. Now is the time to change that. It is the time to seize the moment of historic opportunity to achieve the peace that we have long aspired for and shift our resources to an investment in economic development and growth. It is the time to widen the scope of our participation in the knowledge economy from being mere isolated islands on the periphery of progress, to becoming an oasis of technology that can offer the prospect of economies of scale for those who venture to invest in our young, available talent. We must all agree that countries that sacrifice for the sake of peace and that implement reforms for the sake of being effective partners in the global economy should be able to enjoy the benefits of globalisation. The recent demonstrations around the WTO meeting in Seattle showed the risk of a public backlash if people are excluded from the benefits of technology and globalisation. In fact, the digital gap provides an enormous economic opportunity for the poorest nations to be inserted into the global economy at a faster pace than ever before. But it seems just as likely that the new economy will also speed the concentration of wealth into the hands of the richest nations. Developing countries must therefore be provided with frameworks to facilitate their necessary access to the evolving knowledge economy. The initiative launched at this annual meeting of the World Economic Forum for bridging the rift is a major step in that direction, and I call upon representatives of business, governments, international organisations, and academics to lend all possible support. The benefits of globalisation have to be shared equitably among all, and in a context of global responsibility, if they are to be fully realised.

We in Jordan fully understand this reality. We are also aware of the scope of the challenge. Our new beginning at the dawn of the century provides a model for peace, for regional co-operation and most importantly for hope to the young generation of the Middle East. Drawing strength from the fact that we are part of a new generation of leaders, we have taken the initiative to make free markets the only norm of resource allocation and to capitalise on our competitive advantage in human resources, modern infrastructure and service orientation. We have followed a path that will allow the technological revolution to harness our available talent into productive sectors that can fuel and sustain economic growth. In short, we have made it a priority to address the challenges of meeting international standards in technology, education, and production, in order to grasp the full benefits of globalisation. The results of these efforts should not be recounted in our own words but should rather be seen in investments already made by Albemarle, Lafarge, France Telecom, Motorola, Boscan, Mitsubishi, Sprint and Accor, and should be viewed in terms of agreements for the establishment of joint ventures in key economic sectors with Norsk Hydro, Kimera, and Raytheon, amongst others.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Almost one year ago, I was entrusted with navigating the course of the future for my country and my countrymen. I was fortunate enough to have been a student in the school of thought of a true and courageous leader, my father, who believed in the future of his people and his country. He left us with a legacy, that of the respect of the international community for the contribution of Jordan to world peace. It is a torch that Jordanians join me in carrying and protecting as we chart together a new beginning to face the challenge.

It is the task of the new generation of leaders in the Middle East to transform peace settlements into a permanent reality of economic hope and opportunity for the peoples of the region. These leaders are the ones who can closely associate with the hopes and dreams of the people of the Middle East, who long to be able to live and work like so many others around the world with the promise of hope and fulfilment.

In an emerging global system, where daily advances in technology are increasingly becoming vehicles for the attainment of scientific progress, economic prosperity and cultural wealth, the means might change, but the goal remains the same. In the past year, I have come to rely on the selfless advice and generous support of many good men and women around the globe. For this I am truly grateful. Mostly, I have been enriched and inspired by the faith of the Jordanian people. They are true believers that today offer a historic opportunity when self-help, regional co-operation and a global partnership can secure a better tomorrow. For the young generation of Jordan, the future holds the promise and the promise is the future. Together, I know that we can make it happen.

Thank you very much.