ITC and Arab countries take stock of the progress made on regional trade integration
(Geneva) Officials from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) this week took stock of recent progress to lower barriers to trade within the region while charting a course for future regional integration, at a meeting in Marrakesh organized by the International Trade Centre (ITC).
The 11-12 December gathering, held in collaboration with MENA government agencies and trade and investment, brought together about 50 participants from 11 Arab countries and multiple international organizations.
The event followed on a 2014 high-level regional roundtable on non-tariff measures (NTMs) in Tunisia, where participants formulated recommendations to reduce NTM-related trade costs for businesses seeking to do business across the region. It sought to review progress made in the intervening years, and to serve as a platform for participants to share ideas and new national and regional initiatives, and to define a shared roadmap for the future.
Lassaad Ben Hassine, manager of the Aid for Trade Initiative for the Arab States (AfTIAS) programme, a multi-donor, multi-agency partnership, praised the event in Marrakesh as well as ITC’s work in the region. ‘For the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC), the NTMs project is one of the most important projects implemented by ITC under AfTIAS program,’ he said. The workshop would generate ideas for projects under the next phase of the AfTIAS programme, he added.
Participants agreed that information - access to reliable trade and market information together with quick responses to traders from government enquiry points are necessary for streamlined trade. Several Arab countries plan to digitize customs procedures and go paperless in the coming years. They emphasized the need to simplify procedures and cut customs clearance times. Many called for regionally harmonize efforts made by national governments for trade facilitation at the regional level - especially on issues such as single windows, enquiry points.
In the area of quality and standards, delegates recommended that the region’s national standards should develop common positions on the formulation of international standards and promote best practices with regard to market surveillance.
Reiterating ITC’s commitment to fostering trade among Arab countries, Mondher Mimouni, who heads the agency’s trade and market intelligence work, said ITC would take into account recommendations from the event to plan its own interventions in the region in the years ahead.
ITC tools and analysis support export diversification, regional integration
In recent years, Arab countries took important steps to make their economies more competitive and less dependent on oil exports. From 2008 to 2017, non-oil exports rose from $222 billion to almost $400 billion. By fostering more trade among neighbours, better regional integration would support countries’ export diversification efforts. ITC has since 2014 developed tools and analysis to support Arab governments’ efforts on both fronts.
The export potential analysis tool identifies sectors and target markets with intra-regional trade potential. The analysis, which shows that over 40%, or $28 billion, of intraregional trade potential remains unused. By focusing on the frictions - such as difficulties with non-tariff measures, price/quality mismatches, or lack of market intelligence - that frustrate potential trade opportunities, the tool points policymakers to specific areas where reforms would deliver substantial gains.
ITC has supported the region’s efforts to collect and disseminate information on market access conditions and customs procedures. In total, over 4,000 non-tariff measures as well as applied tariffs and preferences can now be easily consulted online through ITC’s Market Access Map, its regional derivative the EuroMed Trade Helpdesk as well as the Rules of Origin Facilitator.
One of the main concerns raised at the 2014 roundtable was the need to improve the availability and accessibility of training and information on standards-related non-tariff measures. In response, ITC delivered multiple workshops to Ministries, Trade Support Institutions and Universities on Export Quality Management in the region over the past years. In Egypt, Jordan, Oman, State of Palestine and Qatar, over 50 participants had the opportunity to improve understanding about NTMs and Market Access Issues and using available trade information sources.
Tailor-made trainings and workshops covering information on market access conditions, tariffs and non-tariff measures were also provided to over 400 participants in 2018 alone in Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Algeria and Egypt. Delivered in French, English and Arabic, these ITC capacity building activities focused on empowering the small and medium sized companies to independently research and analyse viable trade opportunities in regional markets.
In addition, ITC also produced 12 publications, based on business surveys and expert analysis, offering a comprehensive understanding of NTM-related challenges in the region:
- Jordan: Company Perspectives - An ITC Series on Non-Tariff Measures
- Managing Quality in Jordan: A directory of services for SMEs, also available in Arabic
- Egypt: Company Perspectives – An ITC Series on Non-Tariff Measures
- Managing Quality in Egypt: A Directory of Services for SMEs also available in Arabic
- State of Palestine: Company Perspectives - An ITC Series on Non-Tariff Measures
- Managing Quality in State of Palestine: A directory of services for SMEs, also available in Arabic
- Making regional integration work - Company perspectives on non-tariff measures in Arab States in English, French and Arabic
National guides developed for Jordan, Egypt and the State of Palestine provide small businesses access to quality management information, with an overview of the national quality infrastructure and contacts for quality-related service providers.
Notes for the Editor
About ITC - ITC is the joint agency of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations. ITC assists small and medium-sized enterprises in developing and transition economies to become more competitive in global markets, thereby contributing to sustainable economic development within the frameworks of the Aid-for-Trade agenda and the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development. For more information, visit www.intracen.org.
About ITC’s programme on non-tariff measures - The ITC programme on NTMs ensures that the concerns of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) about regulatory and procedural trade obstacles are brought to the attention of policymakers and other stakeholders at the national, regional and multilateral level, enabling them to take concrete actions to address these. The program has four components: NTM Business Survey, stakeholder consultations, capacity building on NTMs and enhancing transparency on rules and procedures.
For more information, please visit www.ntmsurvey.org .
For more information about the event, please consult www.ntmsurvey.org/more/events/arab-states-regional/
International Trade Centre
Jarle Hetland, Media Officer
P: + 41 22 730 0145
M: + 41 79 582 9180
E: hetland [at] intracen.org