Abdul Aziz Al-Owaisheq, assistant secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for negotiations and strategic dialogues, has urged the Arab League to be realistic and practical in its decisions and declarations, because impractical rhetoric does not lead to economic success.
“The Arab League can only maintain its credibility if it succeeds in abandoning exaggerated statements on ambitious projects, which the league and its member states cannot implement within the time-frames specified,” Al-Owaisheq said in a statement to a local newspaper.
Four years ago the Arab League decided to expand its responsibilities beyond its political character, launching the first Arab economic summit. According to Al-Owaisheq, “The Arab League’s decision requires a radical shift in its style of rhetoric, because economic decisions are different from political statements.” He also stressed that making announcements about launching ambitious projects, without following through with concrete implementation steps will damage the organization’s credibility.
He said he did not observe any noticeable progress in the implementation of the league’s past economic summit declarations. He referred in particular to the announcement made during the first summit in 2009 to launch an Arab customs union by 2015. Another example he cited was the declaration to establish an Arab common market by 2020.
On the other hand, he expressed hope that the successful economic integration of the GCC countries would serve as a model for the rest of the Arab world.
“The GCC experience can serve as a learning platform in terms of establishing an Arab customs union and other joint institutions,” he added.
Regarding the reasons hindering mutual trade between GCC and Arab countries, Al-Owaisheq attributed it to the fact that they trade with the outside world more than among one another. In addition, the bulk of exports from GCC and other Arab countries remains petroleum, which means there is a lack of diversification in terms of traded goods.
Other causes for the poor mutual trade between Arab countries include lack of good transportation facilities and the absence of a unified customs union.
Al-Owaisheq also ruled out the development of a greater Arab free trade zone, due to the zone’s definition of locally produced goods, which stipulates that a product is considered locally manufactured only if 40 percent of the product’s content is of indigenous origin. Most of the goods produced in the Arab world do not fulfill this stipulation and are therefore unable to enjoy the free trade zone amenities.
Furthermore, the absence of unified standards and specifications in the Arab world, except in the GCC region, poses an additional obstacle in the way of achieving extensive trade exchange between the Arab countries. Even the North African countries and European Union have unified standards and specifications that govern their commercial activities, while the Arab countries have still not reached a common understanding among themselves.
In order to attract private investments there must be a safe investment environment and assurances for profitable returns. Unfortunately, for the time being the investment climate in the Arab world is neither safe nor profitable, he said. Lack of fast and hassle-free transportation is another factor that discourages investors. These are major problems the Arab League has to resolve in order to achieve greater economic integration and investments.
He also stressed the need for modernizing the infrastructure and telecommunications sectors and establishing investment-friendly political administrations.
Highlighting the issue of assistance given to less-advantaged countries, the GCC official said he expected the summit to apply pressure on the wealthier Arab countries to offer financial aid to their fellow counterparts. However, he expressed reservations that the assistance would be limited and therefore urged poor countries to strive hard to attract private sector investors from richer Arab countries. He pointed out that the GCC countries offered $ 5 billion in aid to Jordan and Morocco to implement developmental projects and a similar assistance package to Yemen.
In his concluding remarks, Al-Owaisheq said he firmly believed that this summit would deliver realistic declarations because it is hosted in Riyadh and the Kingdom’s leadership is practical in its words and deeds.