Arabs Urged to Speed up Economic Integration

Arab finance and economy ministers opened a meeting in Kuwait on Thursday with calls for speeding up economic integration, and establishing a customs union by 2015, reports AFP.

The ultimate aim is to establish a full Arab common market by 2020.

“We must have a working program with a timetable to implement Arab joint ventures and other economic integration projects,” Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa told the opening ceremony of the one-day meeting.

Moussa said that inter-Arab trade “represents the weakest field in Arab economic integration efforts,” but added that there had been successes in the areas of investment and capital transfer.

Iraqi Trade Minister Safaa al-Deen al-Safi said “Arab economic integration has become an urgent necessity dictated by the fallout of the global economic crisis,” and called for revision of the integration mechanisms.

Arab leaders held their first ever economic summit in Kuwait in January last year and adopted a number of resolutions calling for the speeding up of joint projects with the goal of forming a common market in 2020.

The Arab ministers meeting in Kuwait are to discuss ways to implement those resolutions ahead of a second economic summit in Egypt early next year, Moussa said.

The Arab leaders also launched a two-billion-dollar Arab economic development fund to provide assistance to small and medium-size projects in poor Arab countries.

Moussa said that pledges to the fund have exceeded the one-billion-dollar mark, which enables the fund to start operations, and urged Arab countries to make contributions.

Arab countries launched the Pan-Arab Free Trade Area about four years ago but it did little to boost commerce among member’s states, which remained at between 10 percent and 12 percent of total Arab trade.

The customs union is planned to be completed in 2015 and Moussa urged Arab countries to make a timetable for implementation.

The ministers will also study measures to implement Arab program for reducing unemployment and poverty, which runs as high as 40 percent in at least seven Arab nations. The National quotes Moussa as saying that one third of the Arab world, or 100 million people, suffer from illiteracy and one-third lives on less than $2 a day.

(Sources: AFP, The National)

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