Trading up

Towards Arab and Euro-Med Regional Integration
Page 49 

Countries in Europe and the southern Mediterranean have been forging financial ties that will hopefully stimulate good relations as well as open markets on both sides of the sea.

A promising trend in creating such partnerships is the proliferation of free trade agreements between states in the Middle East and North Africa and the European Union since 1993.

Tunisia, Morocco, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have all signed bilateral Free Trade Agreements with the EU. And Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria are involved in similar negotiations.

There have also been renewed efforts to liberalise trade at the intra-regional level through the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA), initiated in 1997.

In addition to removing trade barriers on industrial goods, these agreements will ultimately grant preferential and reciprocal access for agricultural products, and establish conditions for the gradual liberalisation of trade in services and capital.

However, these agreements have profound implications for Arab states in the region.

The Southern Mediterranean countries generally view progress in European integration with some disquiet, as they fear being left aside.

But as the EU is by far the main trading partner of the southern Mediterranean countries, these countries could seize the opportunity for instance, to use the euro for their international currency transactions.

Poverty reduction through economic growth has become a more urgent shared objective, and may be another potential long-term benefit from fuller Euro-Med and Arab integration.

Therefore, in negotiating free trade agreements the EU must strive to make them as equitable as possible so that integration may prove to be a more popular word than globalisation.

Towards Arab and Euro-Med Regional Integration 

©OECD Observer No 230, January 2002

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