Greater Arab free trade zone no longer useful

UAE Daily News | 26 December 2008

Greater Arab free trade zone no longer useful

CAIRO, Dec 26 2008 — The forthcoming Arab Economic Summit is likely to set the stage for Arab economic openness with international agencies and lay the grounds for luring external investments, said a high-ranking official of the Arab League.

Arab League Assistant Secretary General for Economic Affairs, Dr. Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri, said in an interview with UAE Daily News that the upcoming summit, due to be hosted by Kuwait on January 19-20, would constitute a "historic turning point for bolstering inter-Arab cooperation." This event will open the door wide for pressing ahead with inter-Arab economic integration, paving the way for openness with the global economy, namely the World Trade Organization (WTO), in addition to luring investments from the non-Arab world, Al-Tuwaijri added in the remarks to UAE Daily News.

He confirmed that the summit would address a host of issues of common concern for the Arab peoples, such as the establishment of the common custom union, implementation of the Arab accord for services and granting businessmen a special card that allows them to move freely across the borders of the Arab states.

The summiteers will also discuss the Arab-Arab economic merger, establishing a common railway network, a naval navigation network, education, health, poverty, unemployment, food security and climatic changes.

Some of the major issues to be examined by the conferees will be activation of previously crafted accords among the Arab states, said Al-Tuwaijri.

Elaborating, he affirmed necessity of tackling snags obstructing implementation of some of the accords, namely custom obstacles and finalizing specification of the products origin criterion.

Arab states should not pursue the process of establishing the greater trade zone "because it won’t be useful," Al-Tuwaijri opined, expressing his belief that the Arab countries should rather seek to establish what he termed "a custom wall to face the world as a bloc." But he reaffirmed the necessity to pursue the efforts at the tariffs level to establish the Arab custom union.

Elaborating, he said the custom union is necessary to boost the inter-Arab trade, and urged for diversifying the inter-Arab investments to involve not only real estate and entertainment complexes’ projects, but also the industries, notably small and medium crafts.

Al-Tuwaijri called on the Arab states to follow suit of the European Union, noting that the Europeans succeeded in realizing unification at various levels despite some political disputes and past struggles.

He reiterated the view that the impact of the financial crisis on the Arab economies was limited, and called for holding the economic summit on regular basis.

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source: UAE Daily News