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Forum touts reform as cure for MENA's woes

Participants say region is missing out on benefits of globalization

The 5th MENA Development Forum closed Sunday after concluding that social and economic challenges confronting the MENA region can only be resolved by implementing political and economic reforms. Organized by the World Bank, MENA think tanks, the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS), the three-day bi-annual conference brought together 750 experts from civil society, the private sector and the international community to discuss "how to make reforms work in the region."

Summing up the conclusions of the forum's 12 workshops, LCPS's general director, Oussama Safa, said MENA nations have not benefited enough from the opportunities offered by globalization, adding that the regional economy was facing several challenges. These include "overcoming impediments to higher productivity and competitiveness; fostering quality education and training; exploiting opportunities offered by the ongoing demographic transition; balancing the public versus private divide in investment, employment and production; and promoting change in favor of diversification into higher value added goods and services," said Saffa.

One of the workshops on trade reform stressed the importance of promoting Lebanese industries, and also encouraged local, export-oriented sectors to focus on becoming more competitive in the global economic order to benefit from bi-lateral trade agreements.

The forum drew on the experiences of businesswomen and journalists specializing in economic liberalization and the effects of globalization to argue that institutional reforms should be implemented in a manner that increases gender equality.

Talking to The Daily Star, Safa said one of the highlights of the forum was the decision to establish the Youth Promoting Good Governance in the Arab region program. The network will allow young people to interact with Arab parliamentarians and lobby for reforms. Saffa said allowing young people to influence policy-makers and shape decisions should be central to any long-term reform agenda.

Aside from a networking opportunity, the case studies shared at the forum "generated a powerhouse of ideas and created a moral drive to move forward with reforms," Safa said.

MDF is the culmination of a two-year research project, where each MENA shares different strategies for implementing reforms and assesses their impact.

Saffa acknowledged the difficulty of promoting political reforms in a region governed by many authoritarian regimes, but said that event like MDF are encouraging, and their achievements prove they should carry on despite the long and arduous road that lies ahead. The gradual liberalization that has taken place in MENA countries in the past decade has been a result of pressuring the state to reform.

Lebanon hosted the MDF at a time when Premier Fouad Siniora is pushing the Cabinet to adopt a comprehensive five-year plan of financial, administrative and economic reforms.

Beirut,04 10 2006
Raed El Rafei
The Daily Star
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