The meeting of the GCC heads of state last week in Riyadh (Dec. 9- 10) was the first GCC summit Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman chaired since ascending to the throne in January 2015. At the summit, he presented a new and comprehensive vision that was endorsed enthusiastically by all. When fully implemented, the vision would transform the GCC into a more effective and dynamic organization.
The Riyadh Declaration, issued at the end of the summit, gives glimpses of King Salman’s vision, which covers five different tracks: Economic and social track, legal and organizational track, in addition to military, internal security and foreign policy tracks. I will deal today with the first two tracks, leaving the remaining three for later.
In the economic integration area and after 13 years of “transition” in implementing the GCC Customs Union, the vision calls for fulfilling all remaining requisites of the Customs Union, as stated in the GCC Economic Agreement, including by taking “decisive measures” to accelerate, facilitate and simplify intra-GCC cross-border customs procedures, with a view to abolishing intra-GCC customs points altogether.
Eight years after the introduction of the GCC Common Market in January 2008, the vision calls for completing the project during 2016, by fully implementing the principle, stated in the 2001 Economic Agreement, of full national treatment of all GCC natural and legal citizens in all economic areas, “without discrimination or conditions.”
King Salman’s vision includes several important measures of direct impact on people. For example, it tasks the GCC Secretariat with introducing initiatives for environmental protection, marine life preservation and countering desertification, groundwater depletion and climate change. It also requires the Secretariat to monitor the potential spread of epidemics in the region and support and coordinate the work of consumer protection organizations. The vision empowers the Secretariat to develop further GCC efforts in the service of disabled persons and adopt measures to encourage volunteerism in GCC states.
With an eye to engage universities in GCC integration measures, the vision tasked the Secretariat and GCC public universities with establishing academic programs to study and develop the GCC integration experience.
In order to enable citizens and businesses to maximize their benefits from GCC integration, it was agreed to complete the GCC economic legal framework, by quickly issuing, inter alia, the Unified Commercial Law, Competition Law and Commercial Fraud Law, and transforming all current model laws into binding legislation, during 2016.
To ensure judicial supervision of the full implementation of these and other GCC legislations, the vision calls for quickly empaneling the Judicial Commission, agreed to some time ago.
As there are over a dozen organizations in the GCC system, some with low capacity and conflicting mandates, the vision calls for bringing all GCC organizations and offices under the umbrella of the GCC Secretariat, to remove overlaps, enhance capacity and ensure consistency with GCC integration objectives.
Among the most important changes to GCC working mechanisms are those related to decision-making and implementation. For example, it is now possible for two or more states to agree to take any integration measures they deem appropriate, within the GCC framework. The rest of the GCC member states could later join them, when the time is right for them.
It was also agreed to accelerate procedures for quick implementation of the GCC Supreme Council’s directives, as well as fast-track ratification of laws and agreements endorsed by the Council.
King Salman’s vision also includes measures to accelerate military and internal security integration between GCC member states. It also aims at strengthening the GCC’s international and regional roles and upgrade strategic and economic partnerships with important international and regional actors.
I will deal in a later column with these three topics (defense, internal security and foreign policy).
The last point, which is important and needs to be stressed here, is about implementation of the vision. Saudi Arabia, as the rotating GCC presidency, pledged during the summit last week to implement it during its term, i.e. during 2016. That could happen only if the Secretariat and other member states, through their chosen representatives in the relevant GCC committees and councils, also do their job in a timely manner. A tall order indeed.