Gulf Daily News | 19 January 2009
Leaders set to approve Arab customs union
KUWAIT CITY : Arab leaders are to approve a customs union - the first step to a common market - as well as a power grid and a rail network at their first economic summit in Kuwait, it was revealed yesterday.
The projects were approved along with other resolutions at a joint meeting of Arab foreign and finance ministers.
One draft resolution calls for "taking the necessary measures to announce the launch of an Arab Customs Union in 2010 and which will be completed in 2015."
The union will pave the way to set up an Arab common market in 2020.
The union and common market are aimed at boosting inter-Arab trade and luring investments from Arab states to poor countries.
Arab League figures show that inter-Arab trade only makes up between 10 per cent and 12pc of the total volume of Arab trade while inter-Arab investments have remained a small fraction of total Arab foreign investments.
Arab countries launched the Pan-Arab Free Trade Area about three years ago, but it did little to boost commerce among the 22 Arab League members.
At their summit tomorrow, the leaders are also expected to approve a resolution calling for the launch of an Arab rail network.
The resolution states that the project will be implemented on a commercial basis and financing will be arranged through Arab, regional and international financial institutions and banks.
The summit is also set to approve a resolution to halve the regional unemployment rate, which topped 14pc last year, in the period between next year and 2020.
The leaders are expected to call for the implementation of an Arab programme for the reduction of poverty, which tops 40pc in at least seven Arab nations. The Kuwait summit was intended to be non-political and focus entirely on boosting Arab economic integration but it has been overshadowed by the deadly Israeli onlaught on Gaza and deep divisions among Arab ranks on the issue.