Time to tear down Mideast trade barriers, Davos panel hears

A panel at Davos heard how an agreement between Saudi Arabia and the UAE to boost cooperation could be a blueprint for the wider region. (Reuters)
Updated 23 January 2019
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Time to tear down Mideast trade barriers, Davos panel hears

  • Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri, Saudi minister of economy and planning, said a move to ease movement of traffic across the border could be followed elsewhere
  • Majid Al Futtaim CEO Alain Bejjani: Now there’s this seriousness between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, I hope it gets to frictionless trade

DAVOS: Amid global trade wars and the rise of protectionism, Middle East economic and business leaders on Tuesday issued a clarion call for the exact opposite: To ease customs restrictions in the region.
A panel at Davos heard how an agreement between Saudi Arabia and the UAE to boost cooperation — including the reduction of obstacles to trade across the shared border — could be a blueprint for the wider region.
Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri, Saudi minister of economy and planning, said a move to ease movement of traffic across the border — partly through the use of technology — could be followed elsewhere. “We want to establish a reference for others to follow,” he said.
Alain Bejjani, CEO of retail and leisure group Majid Al Futtaim, said “frictionless trade” would give the region a boost.
“Now there’s this seriousness between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, I hope it gets to frictionless trade,” he told Arab News on the sidelines of the Davos forum.
Bejjani declined to say whether that would involve a customs union, a common market or a common currency. Given the imposition of trade tariffs between the US and China, and the rise of Brexit, globalization — something espoused by many Davos delegates — is seen as on the wane.
But Bejjani said breaking down barriers in the Middle East could help it better compete with Western Europe and the US.
“For the past almost century now… we’ve been ingeniously working on making sure we put barriers across the Arab world. The reality is we have a market that’s as big as most of the largest markets in the world… if we’re smart enough to work together,” he told the Davos panel.
Khalid Al-Rumaihi, chief executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, agreed that Saudi-UAE cooperation was “a great template” for others to follow.
Aside from “opening up” Middle East markets, Al-Rumaihi said harmonizing regulation in the region would also be beneficial to businesses and entrepreneurs.
“If the rules are changing in each country, if they’re not harmonized, it’s very difficult… for an entrepreneur (to understand) the regulatory environment. So they don’t scale very quickly, and that’s something we need to solve,” he said. Talk of freer trade within the Middle East is especially relevant when it comes to the Palestinian territories, which are subject to Israeli occupation and blockade.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said freer movement and a reduction of duties would help the economy grow.
“We need to see our products being waived (of) customs,” he said. “We need mobility — we’re under occupation.”


Germany: US calling European cars a threat is ‘frightening’

Updated 16 February 2019
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Germany: US calling European cars a threat is ‘frightening’

  • ‘If these cars ... suddenly spell a threat to US national security, then that is frightening to us’

MUNICH, Germany: German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday labelled as “frightening” tough US trade rhetoric planning to declare European car imports a national security threat.

“If these cars... suddenly spell a threat to US national security, then that is frightening to us,” she said.

Merkel pointed out that the biggest car plant of German luxury brand BMW was not in Bavaria but in South Carolina, from where it exports vehicles to China.

“All I can say is it would be good if we could resume proper talks with one another,” she said at the Munich Security Conference.

“Then we will find a solution.”

A US Commerce Department report has concluded that auto imports threaten national security, setting the stage for possible tariffs by the White House, two people familiar with the matter said Thursday.

The investigation, ordered by President Donald Trump in May, is “positive” with respect to the central question of whether the imports “impair” US national security, said a European auto industry source.

“It’s going to say that auto imports are a threat to national security,” said an official with another auto company.

The report, which is expected to be delivered to the White House by a Sunday deadline, has been seen as a major risk for foreign automakers.

Trump has threatened to slap 25 percent duties on European autos, especially targeting Germany, which he says has harmed the American car industry.

After receiving the report, the US president will have 90 days to decide whether to move ahead with tariffs.

Trump in July reached a trade truce with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, with the two pledging no new tariffs while the negotiations continued.

Brussels has already drawn up a list of €20 billion ($22.6 billion) in US exports for retaliatory tariffs should Washington press ahead, the commission’s Director-General for Trade Jean-Luc Demarty told the European Parliament last month.

The White House has used the national security argument — saying that undermining the American manufacturing base impairs military readiness, among other claims — to impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, drawing instant retaliation from the EU, Canada, Mexico and China.

Trading partners have sometimes reacted with outrage at the suggestion their exports posed a threat to US national security.