In recent years, Jordan has made major progress toward achieving macroeconomic stabilization and sustained economic growth. The country’s remarkable success in achieving high real growth with continued price stability and a strengthening of its balance of payments is attributable to the stabilization and reform strategy the authorities adopted in the wake of the balance of payments crisis of the late 1980s. The strategy was further strengthened in the aftermath of the August 1990 regional crisis when 300,000 Jordanians (about 10 percent of the population) returned from neighboring countries, leading to a sharp increase in unemployment, a disruption of trade, a loss of remittances, and a stoppage of aid flows from other countries in the region.

In recent years, Jordan has made major progress toward achieving macroeconomic stabilization and sustained economic growth. The country’s remarkable success in achieving high real growth with continued price stability and a strengthening of its balance of payments is attributable to the stabilization and reform strategy the authorities adopted in the wake of the balance of payments crisis of the late 1980s. The strategy was further strengthened in the aftermath of the August 1990 regional crisis when 300,000 Jordanians (about 10 percent of the population) returned from neighboring countries, leading to a sharp increase in unemployment, a disruption of trade, a loss of remittances, and a stoppage of aid flows from other countries in the region.

This section provides a background analysis covering the structure of the economy, the sources of Jordan’s economic difficulties, and recent adjustment and structural reform efforts. The analysis focuses on the emergence of large financial imbalances in the 1980s and the adjustment and structural reform efforts undertaken since late 1988.

Structure of the Economy

Jordan is a lower-middle-income country of about 4 million inhabitants and an annual per capita income estimated at $1,370 in 1994 (Tables 2.1 and 2.2). Its economic structure is dominated by trade-and service-related activities (including government services); these account for more than two-thirds of GDP at factor cost (Chart 2.1), and manufacturing, agriculture, mining, and construction account for the rest. Construction has been the driving force during periods of strong economic growth. Because of its very narrow production base, the economy is highly dependent on imports, which represent nearly 60 percent of GDP. Workers’ remittances from the neighboring oil-exporting countries and processed mining-based exports are the primary sources of Jordan’s foreign exchange earnings.

Table 2.1.

Social and Demographic Indicators

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Source: Department of Statistics, Government of Jordan, Statistical Yearhook 1993 (Amman, 1993).Note: East Bank only. Most recent estimates are given.

Includes the effect of Jordanians returning from abroad in the aftermath of the 1990 regional crisis.

Table 2.2.

Selected Economic and Financial Indicators

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Sources: Government of Jordan, Department of Statistics, Statistical Yearbook 1993; Jordanian authorities; and IMF staff estimates.

Commitment basis.

Cash basis.

Based on the revised sectoral classification recommended by the IMF’s Statistics Department; because of reclassification, the changes shown under this column may not be meaningful.

Consists of central government operations: net general budget and net own budget.

Also includes claims on municipalities and local governments and on the Social Security Corporation.

Includes claims on specialized credit institutions (for the period up to 1993 under the old classification) and financial institutions.

Excluding grants from the Gulf Crisis Financial Coordination Group and transfers of workers’ savings.

Readily usable foreign exchange of the Central Bank of Jordan; excluding foreign exchange deposits by residents at the Central Bank of Jordan, gold, and claims on the Central Bank of Iraq; data are for end of period.

Period averages.

Chart 2.1.
Chart 2.1.

Structure of the Economy

(In percent of GDP)

Sources: IMF, International Financial Statistics, and various Recent Economic Development reports.1Including government services.

The size of the public sector in Jordan is large in relation to the level of domestic economic activity. However, the public sector is not engaged in manufacturing activities; it is primarily limited to providing basic services (health and education), public utilities (water and electricity), and infrastructural support (mainly in the areas of transportation, communications, and irrigation). Central government expenditures account for about 35 percent of GDP, although at about 30 percent of GDP the total ratio of revenue to GDP is also high in comparison with other non-oil middle-income countries.

The quality of services provided by the public sector in Jordan is generally good and social indicators are satisfactory. Literacy and enrollment rates at primary and secondary school levels are high, and nutrition and health conditions are generally satisfactory (Table 2.1).

Prudent fiscal (or public sector) expenditure programs, combined with the availability of foreign grants and the regional economic boom associated with the sharp rise in oil prices in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, led to economic prosperity in Jordan during the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s. Subsequently, however, as the regional economies entered into a recessionary period in the wake of falling petroleum prices by the mid-1980s,1 Jordan’s underlying financial imbalances came to the fore. By 1987–88, these imbalances had become unsustainable and led to a severe balance of payments crisis that seriously undermined the economy’s growth prospects. These problems were compounded by the adverse effects of the regional crisis that erupted in August 1990.

Origins of Economic Difficulties

Broad Strategy During the 1970s to Mid-1980s

From the early 1970s until recently, Jordan’s strategy was to develop itself as a provider of skilled manpower and trade-related services for the Arab countries in the region. Accordingly, the authorities had chosen a strategy aimed at educating Jordan’s youth to prepare them for employment in and around the region. At the same time, with the sizable amounts of workers’ remittances and aid received from abroad, Jordan was able to maintain income and consumption at levels that exceeded those that could be expected from the available production capacity in the domestic economy.

Macroeconomic Outcome: An Overview

Jordan’s economic growth during the 1970s and through the mid-1980s was robust. Domestic prices were generally stable, with inflation averaging 5 percent during the decade through the mid-1980s, reflecting in part prudent monetary policy (Chart 2.2).2 As a result of high recurrent expenditures, however, Jordan incurred large fiscal deficits (Charts 2.3 and 2.4) that, excluding foreign grants, averaged more than 20 percent of GDP through the mid-1980s. These were largely financed by readily available foreign grants. Fiscal revenues remained highly dependent on international trade-based taxes, even though the revenue-to-GDP ratio increased to 25 percent of GDP by the mid-1980s. The domestic savings rate was relatively modest, with private sector savings offsetting large dissavings of the public sector (averaging 10 percent of GDP). Investment remained at comfortable levels (at more than 20 percent of GDP), but much of the domestic private sector investment was directed to housing construction and was foreign financed. Despite an unusual import boom, the external current account remained in virtual balance during this period (Chart 2.5).

Chart 2.2.
Chart 2.2.

Movement in Monetary Aggregates, Prices, and the Exchange Rate

Sources: IMF, International Financial Statistics, and various Recent Economic Development reports.
Chart 2.3.
Chart 2.3.

Central Government Operations

(in percent of GDP)

Sources: IMF, International Financial Statistics, and various Recent Economic Development reports.
Chart 2.4.
Chart 2.4.

Central Government Deficit, Revenue, and Expenditure

(In percent of GDP)

Sources: IMF International Financial Statistics, and various Recent Economic Development reports.
Chart 2.5.
Chart 2.5.

External Sector

(In percent of GDP)

Sources: IMF, International Financial Statistics, and various Recent Economic Development reports.

However, because of inappropriate incentives and price signals, efficient import-competing and export-oriented domestic manufacturing activities could not develop. Moreover, by the mid-1980s, the flow of foreign grants from traditional regional countries and inflows of workers’ remittances started to decline in the aftermath of the oil price collapse. The authorities responded to these developments by (1) turning to external commercial and domestic bank borrowing to finance unsustainable levels of domestic aggregate demand and increasingly large budgetary deficits—with claims on the Central Government by the domestic banking system increasing by more than 300 percent during 1986–88; and (2) maintaining domestic price stability through control of administered prices. As a result, there was a rapid acceleration of the external debt-service burden, which led to the emergence of serious financial imbalances. Moreover, the sharply higher public sector debt-service payments further accentuated Jordan’s medium-term fiscal imbalance. In response to an easing of the credit stance and a large devaluation, the inflation rate started to accelerate to double-digit levels by 1988. At about this time, commercial banks started to accumulate nonperforming assets, leading to bank failures by the late 1980s; and access to external borrowing virtually ceased by 1988.

To address these difficulties, the authorities initiated corrective macroeconomic policies, including a large devaluation of the Jordan dinar (Chart 2.6); the exchange rate, which had remained fixed to the SDR for more than twenty years through the end of 1987, was depreciated by 21 percent in real effective terms in 1988. By that time, however, Jordan had become one of the most heavily indebted countries in the world, with its ratio of external debt to GDP increasing to 193 percent of GDP by 1990 (Chart 2.7).

Chart 2.6.
Chart 2.6.

Exchange Rate Indices

(1980 = 100)

Sources: IMF, Information Notice System, and International Financial Statistics.
Chart 2.7.
Chart 2.7.

External Debt and Debt Service

Source: Jordanian authorities.

Structural Weaknesses

Jordan’s economic performance was handicapped not only by its limited resource base but also by policy-induced structural weaknesses in various sectors. The tax system in Jordan—although effective in mobilizing resources for government operations—suffered from inefficiencies resulting from cascading, widespread exemptions, a multiplicity of taxes and tax rates, and inefficient tax administration. On the expenditure side, high military expenditure, extensive subsidy programs (covering basic foods, energy, agricultural production and inputs, and transportation) and a growing external debt-service burden complicated efforts to reduce the fiscal deficit to a sustainable level.

Moreover, Jordan’s trade regime was characterized, until the late 1980s, by a notionally high and complex tariff structure, nontariff barriers, widespread exemptions, and institutional inadequacies, which adversely affected its export and industrial sector performance.3

In the agriculture sector, subsidized water and domestic producer price support contributed to the inefficient use of scarce water resources, while production controls on major vegetable crops prevented higher production and export of high-value products4 in which Jordan appeared to have some comparative advantage. The energy sector also suffered from inadequate pricing policies for petroleum products and electricity, institutional inefficiency in the associated public sector enterprises, and the limited role of the private sector in energy sector development projects.5 In the financial sector,6 the availability of financial instruments was limited, and instruments for indirect control had not been developed, although in 1988 reserve ratios started to be more actively used to absorb excess liquidity in the banking system (generated in part by rapidly increasing bank borrowing by the Government).

Adjustment and Structural Reform Efforts, 1989–94

To address the rapidly growing imbalances, in late 1988 and early 1989, the Government adopted a medium-term growth-oriented adjustment program supported by the IMF and the World Bank, which resulted in some progress toward the reduction of macroeconomic imbalances and the introduction of structural reform measures in several areas. However, following the August 1990 regional crisis, real income declined; unemployment rose sharply—as a result of the reflux of Jordanians working in neighboring countries; trade was disrupted; and aid flows from countries in the region ceased. These adverse developments made it impossible for Jordan to achieve the program targets.

When the regional crisis ended in early 1991, the authorities re-evaluated and resumed their adjustment and structural reform efforts. This led to the adoption of a second medium-term adjustment and structural reform program beginning in 1992, supported by the IMF and the World Bank and other official donors and creditors.

Performance During 1989–90

Jordan’s economic and financial performance during 1989–90 was encouraging. All the policy actions contemplated in the authorities’ program were implemented, which, in combination with debt relief and bilateral grants, enabled Jordan to meet all its quantitative performance criteria in 1989. In particular, the expansions in the net domestic assets of the banking system, the trade deficit, and the external current account deficit were kept below their respective program targets, allowing the Central Bank of Jordan’s foreign exchange reserves to exceed the program target significantly in 1989. The budgetary situation also improved, although, owing to higher-than-expected interest payments on foreign debt, the overall budget deficit exceeded the program target.

On the structural front, following the exchange rate depreciation in 1988, the authorities introduced a number of reforms in the exchange and trade systems and interest rate policy. These included, in particular, abandoning the dual exchange rate system, which they had introduced as a temporary emergency measure in July 1989 to address acute balance of payments difficulties; unifying the official and interbank rates at the level of the more depreciated interbank rate, leading to a further nominal effective depreciation of 8.5 percent; adopting flexible exchange rate management, with the Jordan dinar pegged to a basket of currencies; abandoning the policy of supporting the interbank rate through intervention; freeing up interest rates, with both deposit and lending interest rates allowed to be freely determined by market forces; and phasing out nontariff barriers in stages and replacing them with tariffs initially, and reducing tariff barriers as a whole subsequently, to lower effective protection and foster a broadly neutral system of incentives.7

The Government also adopted a strategy aimed at obtaining debt relief through the rescheduling and lengthening of the maturity structure of debt and reducing the debt burden in relation to GDP in a medium-term context (see Section VI for details). Consistent with these objectives, the Government (1) concluded a restructuring agreement with Paris Club official bilateral creditors in July 1989 and regularized relations with other official bilateral creditors along terms similar to those obtained from the Paris Club; (2) initiated negotiations with the commercial banks to obtain a multiyear restructuring of obligations falling due to banks, with provisions for new money and options for debt conversion; (3) limited all new borrowings to longer-term maturities and, in many instances, at concessional interest rates; and (4) canceled most new commercial borrowings that were in the pipeline.

The authorities implemented various structural measures in 1990, including tariff reforms and further interest rate liberalization, and pursued flexible interest and exchange rate policies. However, a number of adverse developments during 1990, including, in particular, the regional crisis, pushed the economy off track.

Performance Since 1992

The broad objectives of the authorities’ programs since 1992 are to reduce the macroeconomic imbalances significantly; continue the process of structural reform, despite considerable uncertainties about trade and aid relations between Jordan and its neighbors; and achieve balance of payments viability at an early date while attaining satisfactory growth performance in the context of stable domestic prices and increasing the role of the private sector in the economy.

The key policy elements of the program are the following:

  • Reduce the fiscal deficit substantially, through revenue enhancements and containment of current expenditures;

  • Contain credit expansion consistent with the external and inflation objectives and with achieving interest rates that are positive in real terms;

  • Maintain external competitiveness;

  • Carry forward the structural reforms initiated in 1989, including the second phase of tariff reform and the reform of the indirect tax system through the introduction of a general sales tax; and

  • Pursue reforms in the agriculture and water and energy sectors for implementation over 1992–94.

Macroeconomic Stabilization and Outcome

Jordan’s macroeconomic performance during 1992–94 was solid. The economy’s real growth, inflation, and fiscal adjustment performance were much better than anticipated at the inception of the program; and despite a surge in imports associated with the large influx of returnees, the balance of payments adjustment has been stronger than projected. After several years of decline or virtual stagnation, economic activity gained momentum in 1992. Real GDP growth (at market prices) exceeded 16 percent in 1992 (with real GDP growth at factor cost at 12 percent), against a program target of 3 percent; and growth averaged 6 percent a year during 1993–94. This turnaround is largely attributable to strong activity in construction, but was also facilitated by a solid recovery in the agriculture, trade, and manufacturing sectors. A favorable supply response and import prices, coupled with prudent demand-management policies, contributed to a sharp deceleration of inflation to the 4–5 percent range during this period, much below the program targets. The unemployment rate declined to 12–15 percent during 1993–94 from a peak of 25 percent in 1990, despite high labor force growth.

The overall fiscal deficit (excluding foreign grants) declined from nearly 18 percent of GDP in 1991 to less than 4 percent of GDP in 1992, after taking into account the effect of nonrecurrent revenue sources; this result compares with the program target of about 14 percent of GDP. This sharp reduction in the fiscal deficit reflected the effect of discretionary fiscal measures (2.5 percent of GDP) adopted in the context of the 1992 budget; strict expenditure control; and buoyant revenue collection, including nonrecurring revenues (3.5 percent of GDP). When the effect of nonrecurring revenues is excluded, the underlying fiscal deficit is estimated to have declined to about 7 percent of GDP. The authorities’ fiscal policy stance was further tightened during 1993–94, with the underlying fiscal deficit (excluding nonrecurring factors) declining to less than 6 percent of GDP in 1994 as a result of further discretionary measures and strong economic growth.

The favorable fiscal outturn and cautious credit policy stance contained the growth of the net domestic assets of the banking system to less than 8 percent in 1992, below the program target of 8.5 percent.8 Supported by the improved fiscal position, monetary expansion remained well below the increase in nominal GDP during 1992–94.

The external current account deficit declined to some 14 percent of GDP (excluding workers’ savings and grants from the Gulf Crisis Financial Coordination Group (GCFCG)) in 1992, although imports were much higher than programmed because of the economic expansion. The deficit declined by an additional 3 percentage points to less than 12 percent of GDP in 1993 and thereafter by a further 5 percentage points to 6.5 percent of GDP in 1994. This outcome was attributable to the continuing strong performance of remittances and nontraditional exports and to the strong recovery of tourism receipts. These receipts largely offset the shortfall in traditional mineral-based exports caused by problems in shipping phosphate rocks under the UN-imposed sanctions, the loss of markets, and the collapse in world market prices, as well as the higher growth of imports associated with buoyant economic activity in 1992. Nontraditional exports were strong throughout the period.

With these developments and large transfers of workers’ savings (primarily repatriation of foreign financial assets of Jordanians who had previously worked abroad), the overall balance of payments deficits were sharply reduced in both 1992 and 1993, and gross official reserves (that is, the Central Bank’s foreign exchange reserves) exceeded the program targets in both years. Rescheduling of debt service and overdue obligations to Paris Club official bilateral creditors in February 1992 and receipts of exceptional assistance from the GCFCG significantly contributed to the balance of payments financing during 1992—93. However, uncertainties in the region stemming from the peace process and the potential redemption of Jordan dinars circulating in the West Bank caused gross official reserves to decline sharply in the first half of 1994. They improved significantly in the second half of 1994, in response to a substantial tightening of the stance of monetary policy, but remained below the program target by the end of 1994.

Jordan also made significant progress in normalizing payments relations with its external creditors and in reducing outstanding payments arrears. In addition, the authorities took steps to liberalize the exchange system by relaxing restrictions on foreign exchange for current account transfers. The annual amount of foreign exchange that residents and nonresidents can transfer abroad was gradually increased, to JD 35,000 (equivalent to $50,000), by early 1994; and the Central Bank abolished the regulation under which export proceeds had to be repatriated within a specified period.

Structural Reforms

Under its medium-term economic reform program, Jordan intended, in particular, to (1) proceed with structural reforms initiated in late 1988, specifically, tariff reform, reform of the indirect tax system—through the introduction of a general sales tax—and the direct tax system; (2) introduce indirect monetary control and a number of other financial reform steps; (3) move to external current account convertibility; (4) implement a number of reforms in the agriculture and water and energy sectors; and (5) improve the regulatory framework for domestic and foreign investments.

The tariff reform program initiated in 1988 was concluded in early 1992, with a further reduction of the maximum tariff rate (by 10 percentage points) to 50 percent (except for a few luxury items). Further progress was made in late 1994: basic tariffs that exceeded 50 percent were reduced to 50 percent or less (except on three items); as a result, together with the surcharge and other fees, border taxes were reduced to 70 percent or less, and the effective tariff rate was reduced to 21 percent. In the agriculture and water sectors, control of cropping patterns was abolished, and the average tariff on agricultural imports was reduced to 30 percent, as part of the reform effort supported by the World Bank Agriculture Sector Adjustment Loan (ASAL).

Under the ongoing reform of the energy sector operations supported by the World Bank Energy Sector Adjustment Loan (ESAL), the authorities are seeking to achieve certain financial targets in the operations of the Jordan Electricity Authority (JEA) and to formulate a detailed financial and institutional restructuring plan for the power sector, including the incorporation of the JEA and the establishment of a new oil and gas company. Furthermore, as part of its public sector enterprise reform and privatization program, the Government has sold a large part of its shares in the Jordan Hotels and Tourism Company and completed the commercialization of the Alia Gateway Hotels and duty-free shops at the Amman International Airport. The Telecommunications Corporation (TCC) is allowing the private sector to provide complementary services, and a strategy to privatize the TCC is expected to be completed by the end of 1995 under the World Bank Telecommunications Project.

In September 1993, the authorities started to issue central bank certificates of deposit (CDs) denominated in Jordan dinars as a new indirect instrument of monetary control. Since then, there has been a steady strengthening of indirect monetary control operations and other supporting reforms, with the Central Bank implementing monetary policy through a reserve money program and using an indirect monetary control mechanism to effectively influence domestic interest rates, without resorting to ad hoc and arbitrary use of credit limits. Commercial banks have been responding efficiently to the interest rate policy the Central Bank is pursuing through open market operations.

In June 1994, to broaden the domestic tax base and improve the elasticity and efficiency of the tax system, the authorities replaced the consumption tax system with a general sales tax at the manufacturing and import stages. Its main features are a basic rate of 7 percent, with a rate of 20 percent applying to 30 items (mainly luxury goods); a tax credit for inputs to remove cascading of taxes at different stages of production; and a limited number of exemptions.

Progress was also made in liberalizing the exchange system. In particular, following several steps to liberalize current account restrictions, in February 1995 Jordan accepted the obligations of Article VIII, Sections 2, 3, and 4 of the IMF’s Articles of Agreement (see Section VII).

Further progress in structural reform was achieved with the recent passage of additional reform measures and their implementation by the time of the Amman economic summit in late October 1995. The package consists of several amendments to the general tax system, a reform of corporate and personal income taxes, and a new investment law.

The measures to reform the general sales tax include increasing the basic rate to 10 percent; allowing tax rebates for inputs to production if the final good is exported tax exempt; extending the sales tax to services according to an extended positive list; allowing taxpayers below a certain threshold to register voluntarily; and introducing a supplementary duty on selected luxury products, alcohol, and tobacco.

The authorities improved the direct tax system by eliminating tax holidays (except for investments in less developed areas); limiting tax deductibility to net interest payments; reducing the number of tax rates, including maximum tax rates, for both personal and corporate income taxes from 50 percent to 35 percent; rationalizing corporate income tax rates, with a view to treating all corporate sectors equally by establishing three flat corporate tax rates of 15 percent for companies in “encouraged” sectors (mining, industry, hotels, and hospitals), 35 percent for banks and financial institutions, and 25 percent for all other companies; encouraging capital accumulation by imposing a withholding tax of 10 percent on distributed profits; and broadening the tax base by reducing and simplifying exemptions and applying uniform standard deductions for all wage earners.

The new Investment Law, which replaces both the Encouragement and Investment Law of 1978 and the Law Governing Arab and Foreign Investment of 1992, provides for equal treatment of all investors, eliminates the distinction between projects in the same sector, rationalizes the incentive structure, and opens the financial market to all investors.

The package is expected to be complemented later this year by a law governing the operations of the Amman Financial Market (AFM), further measures to deepen the financial markets, and a further tariff reform. Overall, the reforms that have already been adopted or are under consideration are consistent with the authorities’ medium-term private sector and export-led strategy and should enable Jordan to benefit from prospective regional developments and new trade and financial opportunities.


These also provided for Jordan’s exports of goods and nonfactor services.


The average rate of inflation was contained at about 5 percent during the decade through the mid-1980s.


The maximum tariff rate was 318 percent, while, owing to widespread exemptions, the bulk of imports were imported duty free. Nearly thirty institutions accounting for 51 percent of imports into Jordan were exempt from import duty. Nontariff barriers in the form of quantitative restrictions were also widespread; about 40 percent of imports were subject to quantitative restrictions in 1988. Combined with these non-tariff barriers, the high degree of variations in the tariff rates (between zero and 318 percent, with a standard deviation of 26.1) led to a high degree of variation in effective rates of protection.


For more details on structural issues related to Jordan’s agriculture sector, see Jordan: Towards an Agriculture Sector Strategy, Report No. 7547–50 (Washington: World Bank, 1990).


For more details on structural issues related to Jordan’s energy sector, sec Jordan: Energy Sector Study, World Bank Report No. 7984–JO; Vols. 1 and 2 (Washington: World Bank, 1990).


Four main direct monetary instruments were used: banks’ reserve requirements, the liquidity ratio, credit guidelines, and interest rate ceilings, with legal reserve ratios being kept low (effectively in the range of 7–8 percent of local currency deposits) during most of the period through 1987.


In August 1988, 30 categories of products had their import bans removed and replaced with tariff protection. The percentage of imports subject to quantitative restrictions was reduced from 40 percent in early 1988 to less than 7 percent in 1990. Import prohibition on 11 consumer luxury items, which were banned on a time-bound basis for balance of payments reasons, was eliminated in January 1990. For the remaining 93 percent of the items subject to tariffs, the range between the maximum and minimum tariffs was reduced to 55 percent at a first stage, by lowering the maximum tariff rate to 60 percent and increasing the minimum tariff rate to 5 percent. This narrowing of the range reduced the variation in tariffs (measured in terms of the standard deviation) to 17.5 in 1990 from 26.1 in 1988.


For more details on monetary developments and the corrective measures, see Section V.

Strategy for Adjustment and Growth