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Arab trade 'hinges on higher regional production'
 Dubai, 8th Apr 2001

   The Arab Economic Unity Council has urged Arab countries to produce the 92 per cent foreign goods now being imported by the region rather than focus on liberalizing trade in "crippled economies."

"Inter-Arab trade is low and will not increase through liberalization. We have to make competitive products that Arab citizens need. They have to have specifications accepted by Arab citizens. How can we open borders and liberalize trade when we are crippled?" asked Dr. Ahmad Gowaili, Arab Economic Unity Council secretary general and former Egyptian Trade and Supplies Minister.

"Around 92 per cent of our products are foreign. This means that 92 per cent of products needed by Arab citizens are not produced regionally. Inter-Arab trade will only increase if regional production rises and products are promoted within Arab states."

Gowaili strongly felt that Arab joint ventures and companies are the key to the growth of inter-Arab trade. "If, for example, investors from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iraq set up agricultural and electronics firms, we will succeed. Council members realize they should work together. Formation of private sector companies - in coordination with the council - has nothing to do with politics but calculated economic welfare."

Gowaili is opposed to the regional duplication of projects like media production, information technology cities and others. An IT Federation - under the council - was formed for coordinating Arab policies in the field rather than duplicating projects as is the case with some Arab states, he said.

"The IT Federation was formed by Syria, Egypt, the UAE, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. It aims at coordinating marketing policies between producers and consumers so that projects are not duplicated regionally."

Gowaili warned that Arab contribution in global GDP fell from 3.2 per cent at the beginning of the 1990s to 2.71 per cent in 1997 - $559 billion out of $28.3 trillion. Arab external trade contribution to global trade fell from 3.4 per cent in 1992 to 2.9 per cent in 1997. Inter-Arab trade stagnated at 8 per cent and Arab per capita contribution in GDP is on a constant fall.

"Arab countries-advanced world digital gap rose. Arab countries spend 0.2 per cent of local production on scientific research and technological development against 1.4 per cent for the globe," said Gowaili.

The secretary general said the Arab Investors Federation - in cooperation with the council - is organizing the formation of two Arab private sector firms; E-Trade Firm and Trade and Marketing Holding Co.

"We plan a visit to Dubai in the near future to examine its experience in e-commerce. A meeting - to which the Dubai World Trade Centre is invited - is organized this month for this purpose."

Details of the Arab Trade and Marketing holding company formation will be reviewed on April 22 to 24. Feasibility studies on project details - including capital - are under preparation.
The companies will be set up by the Arab private sector on proper economic basis with no financial involvement from the two bodies. "All Arab companies are welcome.

Gowaili expected the November Arab Economic Conference to promote the region. "An Arab Common Market does not virtually mean a house with a fence like many believe. It means meeting counterparts and agreeing on projects. The conference will help activating it."

The conference will exhibit available regional investment opportunities in trade, technology, and will be a gathering for Arab private sector and international and Arab organisations like the World Bank. Several ideas will be proposed.

The council, said Gowaili, plans to continue supporting its 27 federations, including the Arab Federation for Exhibitions and the Arab IT Federation, and will try speed up free trade agreements among members.

Source: Gulf News©

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