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French Version

Arab states must ‘speed up integration’

Arab countries must speed up economic integration in order to counter stronger blocs, said the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) Mervat Tellawi on Wednesday.

Tellawi made her remarks during a round table discussion at the Press Club in Downtown Beirut.

She added that ESCWA is trying to help member states develop their trade laws to pave the way for their entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other trade organizations.

ESCWA members include the six Gulf cooperation countries, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Palestine. But the organization helps other countries in the region such as Tunisia and Morocco.

Inter-Arab trade is considered very low compared to other countries around the world. About 10 states signed up to an Arab free trade zone a few years ago but this goal seems far from reality as obsolete laws prevent the flow of goods among these countries.

Tellawi said that giant firms in the US and Europe have budgets equal to more than 10 countries in the region. She added that the per capita income in the Arab states is less than $2,800 per year compared to more than $10,000 in Malaysia.

Some economists attribute these low figures to the improper distribution of wealth in Arab states. “Saudi Arabia and other rich Gulf states have an annual income of $10,000 per year. But this figure is still low to countries that have huge oil wealth,” she said.

Tellawi also commented about the future of Iraq after the war. “There is a lot to be done so that Iraq returns to normalcy,” Tellawi said, adding that the average income in Iraq fell to $400 year from $3,800 in 1984. She added that many doctors and professors in Iraq earn between $3 to $4 a month.

Tellawi added that ESCWA is also helping Lebanon meet conditions to enter the WTO. Lebanon is expected to join in less than four years. Countries seeking to join the WTO must liberalize their economies, remove trade barriers and allow for the free flow of goods.

Some analysts say that Lebanon is not yet ready to join the WTO due to its protectionist legal infrastructure. Industrialists complain that the high cost of production hinders exports to other states.

Tellawi also said that ESCWA is helping the construction of road networks in some Arab states to ease trade between them.

Beirut,06 16 2003
Osama Habib
The Daily Star
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