|Wikileaks:||View 02AMMAN3394 at Wikileaks.org|
|Classification:||UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY|
|Tags:||ECON ETRD EINV BEXP JO|
|Redacted:||This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.|
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 AMMAN 003394 SIPDIS SENSITIVE USDOC FOR 4520/ITA/MAC/ONE/PAUL THANOS USTR FOR SAUMS TREASURY FOR PIPATANAGUL E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: ECON, ETRD, EINV, BEXP, JO SUBJECT: SYRIAN SOFT DRINKS SWAMP U.S. PRODUCTS REF: A) AMMAN 2093 B) AMMAN 2039 ------- SUMMARY ------- 1. (SBU) The local subsidiaries of Pepsi and Coca Cola say that their soft drink sales are off by up to 40 percent from 2001 due to a new bilateral trade agreement between Jordan and Syria that has led to an influx of Syrian soft drink products concurrent with the continuing boycott of American products (REF A). They also allege that the Syrian goods are in clear violation of trademark regulations. The companies say their combined USD 200 million investment in Jordan is in jeopardy. They are requesting trade protection from the Jordanian government and judicial system, but are drawing up plans to lay off hundreds of employees should sales not pick up. End Summary ---------------------- THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG ---------------------- 2. (SBU) In separate meetings with local Pepsi and Coke officials, EmbOffs were informed about a major decline in soft drink sales for both major brands, which together control the Jordanian market. While the decrease in sales had begun late spring at a time when calls for a boycott of American goods in the region peaked, the companies have recently seen a sharp upsurge of lower-priced Syrian soft drink products in Jordan, some of which are clear copies of American beverages. This follows the entry into force of a bilateral trade agreement between Jordan and Syria, and suggests that Syrian producers are exploiting the boycott to get a foothold in the Jordanian market. --------------- THE REAL THING? --------------- 3. (SBU) We met with Azem Yousef, General Manager of Coca Cola Bottling LTD. of Jordan. Yousef told us that business was off by 30 percent for the year so far. While he allowed that the boycott was certainly having an impact, he pointed to the sudden appearance of low-priced Syrian soft drinks on the market. Yousef said that the new Jordanian-Syrian trade agreement allows Syrian soft drink manufacturers to export their product to Jordan tariff-free. He added that, although Jordanian brands could enter Syria without tariffs under the agreement, Pepsi and Coke were not allowed to register their trademarks or sell their products in Syria. Even at wholesale prices, Yousef said, Coke cannot compete. 4. (SBU) Yousef brought out some examples of the Syrian products. Master Cola is packaged in an indented plastic bottle and is labeled in a manner, both in color and in script, that is identical to Coke. Similarly, flavored soft drinks, such as "Master Orange", bear a striking resemblance to Fanta, another Coca Cola product. However, according to Yousef, the similarity stops there; the Syrian flavors are not even close approximations, and the plastic bottle is milky, distorting the soda's true color. 5. (SBU) Yousef also shared with us the results of a survey commissioned by Coke to assess Jordanian attitudes toward the boycott and his company's products. The survey, which polled 1200 Jordanians across the country and was conducted by an independent polling organization, showed that the primary targets of the boycott are Jordanian companies with an American brand name, over American companies and the USG. In addition, respondents were evenly split on the question of whether or not the boycott should continue even if it hurt the Jordanian work force. On the positive side, the survey suggested that less than 17 percent of those asked were firmly committed to the boycott. -------- CHEER UP -------- 6. (SBU) PepsiCo Jordan Managing Director Khaled al-Bakri told us a similar story. He said that Pepsi's current numbers are "just like winter's", despite having "many more throats" in Jordan this time of year, a reference to the 200,000 or so Saudis and Gulf residents that spend their summers in cooler Amman. He said that business was down 40 percent from last year, and attributed the decline to the Syrian products. He echoed Yousef's view that Syrian producers were using the trade agreement to take advantage of the boycott and pry their way into the Jordanian market, saying "the flood of Syrian soft drinks encourages the sustainment of the boycott". 7. (SBU) Al-Bakri showed us a study done by Pepsi in collaboration with Coke on the economic impact of the imported soft drinks on both American brands. In addition to a USD25 million loss in revenue to the two companies, the GOJ would see a USD 13 million shortfall in sales tax revenue since the Syrian product is being under-invoiced at the border. More importantly, he said, if sales don't pick up, as many as 900 employees from both companies would have to be laid off by the end of the year. He stressed the point by telling us that the company's HR Director was preparing contingency plans for a layoff of up to 400 employees, out of a 1200 person workforce, by the end of the summer if sales did not pick up. Al-Bakri added that, due to continued losses by its Jordanian subsidiary, Pepsi had begun "to write down" the operation in Jordan as a five year amortization rather than 20 years. 8. (SBU) Courtesy of Al-Bakri, we saw another example of copycat Syrian beverages. Cheer Up, produced by the Udarit Trading Company of Damascus, is packaged identically to PepsiCo's Seven Up, right down to the background shading of the can and even the logo itself. He said that there are no intellectual property rights concerns in Syria, hence the ability of Syrian companies to produce whatever they want without regard to trademark considerations. Al-Bakri said that he had recently seen other products, such as candies, pirated by Syrian companies in similar fashion. ----------------------- COMPETITORS JOIN FORCES ----------------------- 9. (SBU) Yousef and al-Bakri met jointly with Minister of Industry and Trade Bashir June 17. They told us the Minister was very supportive, and encouraged them to apply to the Ministry for trade protection. Al-Bakri said the criterion the companies had to demonstrate was that an increase in Syrian imports was followed by a significant decline in the production and sales of the Jordanian-produced soft drinks. Following the application, there would be a 200 day temporary injunction on Syrian imports while the application was reviewed. Yousef added that the Minister suggested they file trademark infringement cases in Jordanian court. (Note: Al-Bakri told us that PepsiCo Regional Director Sa'ad Abdul-Latif was coming to Jordan June 19-20 to meet with GOJ officials in an effort to heighten government awareness of the problem. Ambassador and Embassy staff will meet with Abdul-Latif to follow up). ------- COMMENT ------- 10. (SBU) Despite this combined USD 200 million invested in Jordan, USD 60 million in salaries and benefits, USD 50 million in capital expenditures, and USD 150 million in sales tax, Pepsi and Coke have suffered combined net losses of USD 55 million since 1997. Executives are growing increasingly frustrated. In addition, confiscatory sales taxes and unfounded quality control issues with the Ministry of Health (REF B), coming as they have during an already costly boycott, have soured the investments for the American companies. 11. (SBU) The influx of Syrian product, with its attendant IPR problems, exacerbation of the boycott, and impact on sales, is another example of the difficulties of doing business in Jordan despite the economic reforms of the past several years. Significant layoffs and the potential abandonment of the Jordanian market by PepsiCo would be even more troubling. Embassy staff will continue working with Pepsi, Coke, and GOJ officials to sort through the issues raised by the Jordan-Syrian FTA and its impact on American business. END COMMENT Gnehm
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