Regional Economic Cooperation in the Arab World
The Arab world has aspired for deepening regional economic cooperation for decades. It has exceptional attributes of shared history, geography, ethnicity and language as well as the necessary resource base for the purpose. Yet, the level of intra-regional trade among 22 Arab nations of the Middle East and North Africa remains far lower than other regional groupings such as the European Union (EU), Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Expect the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA), the Arab world has failed to follow the experience of these successful regional cases. Besides, persisting political and security constraints, there are significant institutional, procedural and logistical barriers to the mobility of goods, capital and labour across the region. Consequently, the private sector remains considerably under-developed, and the process of economic diversification less than satisfactory. This nexus between integration and diversification of regional economies is equally evident in the case of resource-abundant Gulf countries, given the fluctuating nature of global energy prices and demand as well as the increasingly uncertain state of regional geopolitics. Regional economic cooperation in the Arab world has gained renewed urgency in the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’, because of the underlying socio-economic roots and ramifications of the 2011 political uprisings. The demographic explosion, reflected in the emergence of an urbanised educated youth bulge poses a formidable challenge to regional economies that cannot be tackled effectively without creating new economic opportunities. For establishing regional supply chains and economies of scale, the Arab world needs a viable roadmap for regional integration, which could entail the following strategies: a) developing and diversifying inclusive economies through proactive engagement of public and private sectors; b) extending the experience of a successful sub-regional initiative such as the GCC to the remaining Arab regions; c) expanding the role of regional stabilizer, which Saudi Arabia could very well perform; d) revitalizing existing regional initiatives, including the GAFTA, Arab Maghreb Union (UMU) and Agadir Agreement by overcoming respective barriers; and e) diversifying the Arab world’s existing global linkages, especially with the emerging powers of Asia.
Ali S. Awadh Asseri
Prof. Nehale Mostapha