RIYADH: Arab leaders began a two-day economic summit in Riyadh on Monday, calling for the strengthening of mutual trade and cooperation in order to face challenges brought on by the Arab Spring uprisings.
“We should achieve an Arab common market,” Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi said at the opening of the third Arab Economic and Social Development Summit, urging Arab nations to “catch up” in the realm of free trade.
“Very little has been done to improve trade between Arab countries,” which reportedly comprises no more than 10 percent of total Arab commerce.
Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, who stood in for ailing King Abdullah in hosting the summit, highlighted economic and social challenges facing the region and also pointed to weak inter-Arab trade.
“The urgent development issues that face our countries are very difficult, including poverty, unemployment and disease. Efforts must be made to confront and eliminate them,” he said.
“The level of trade between us does not match our ambitions.”
Arab foreign ministers who met ahead of the summit prepared a draft agreement on inter-Arab investment, which if approved would allow a free flow of investments and capital between states, Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf said, according to news reports Monday.
The 22 Arab states have a total population of over 367 million, but total Arab gross domestic product represents no more than 3 percent of global GDP.
The Arab region sits on 62 percent of the world’s crude oil reserves and its oil-producing nations export 32 percent of total global exports.
The area is also home to 24 percent of the world’s natural gas reserves. But Arab gas exports represented only 5.8 percent of global exports in 2010.
Most oil-producing GCC states are trying to become less reliant on oil, which is still the main source income.
Experts and bankers have been urging the Arab countries to liberalize their economies, remove tariffs and create a free economic zone.