Arab Economic and Social Development Summit — Kuwait


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is with great regret that I could not be with you today at the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit in Kuwait. I nevertheless wanted to share my thoughts with you on the importance of international trade to the Arab region, and the importance of the Arab region to the World Trade Organization.

Today 12 Arab countries are members of the WTO, with several of them having been party to the WTO's predecessor accord — the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. These countries have played an important role in building the multilateral trading system as we know it today, and in shaping its goals.

Another six Arab countries are in the process of acceding to the WTO, and include Algeria, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq. They are all in the process of negotiating their terms of entry; with some of these accession negotiations being at very different stages. The most recent Arab member of the WTO, Saudi Arabia, no doubt has a role to play in assisting other Arab economies in joining the WTO; a process which can only begin with a thorough understanding of the WTO rule-book.

The importance of international trade to the Arab region cannot be overestimated. The Arab economy that is most dependent on imports is the United Arab Emirates, whose imports of goods and services constitute 86 per cent of its GDP. It is followed by countries such as Jordan, Mauritania and Bahrain, whose import to GDP ratio is in the 70 per cent range. I would be remiss if I were not to mention that these imports have been vital to the region's food security.

The Arab world's export to GDP ratio also testifies to the deep international economic integration of the Arab region. Once again, the Arab economy that is most economically dependent on exports is the United Arab Emirates, whose exports of goods and services constitute 99 per cent of GDP. It is followed by Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman, whose export to GDP ratio is in the 65-90 per cent range.

These numbers speak for themselves and do not require much interpretation. The Arab region needs the outside world just as much as the outside world needs the Arab region. The numbers are equally stark for several of the six Arab economies that are in the process of acceding to the WTO. In Algeria and Libya, for instance, the export to GDP ratio is in the 50 per cent range, and import to GDP ratio around 30 per cent. There is no doubt, therefore, that these economies would benefit from orderly international trade, through the rules of the WTO.

Economic reform is under way in many quarters of the Arab world, and so is deeper intra-Arab economic integration, with several Arab economies gradually moving up in the scale of the world's most competitive economies. Some have even been considered among the top reformers; such as Egypt, with its recent efforts to reduce the cost of doing business in Egypt and in slashing red tape. All these efforts are to be congratulated and must continue to be pursued.

My message to you today is this: because international trade is so vital to your economies, the WTO must also be vital to you. A strong, coordinated and active Arab group in the WTO would no doubt help advance some of your economic priorities. The WTO Doha Round of trade negotiations, launched in 2001 in the capital city of Qatar, is still under way. It includes many areas of economic importance to the Arab region, such as energy services, transportation and distribution services, and negotiations on trade facilitation to do with the reduction of customs red tape, to mention but a few. I would ask that the Arab region prioritize these negotiations, and prioritize the formation of a strong Arab coalition on trade to vigorously pursue its interests through the multilateral platform that is the WTO.

Today as the economic crisis bites into our economies, and as protectionist pressures knock on our doors, we must recall the importance of the insurance policy against protectionism that the WTO offers through 60 years of global rule-making, and its dispute settlement system. Now is the time to strengthen the rules of international trade by concluding the Doha Development Round of negotiations.

I look forward to your cooperation in this endeavour, and hope to have the opportunity to visit your region in the coming period.

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