Arab summit to launch mega customs union

Kuwait City, January 18:

Arab leaders are to approve a customs union — the first step to a common Arab market — as well as a power grid and a rail network at their first economic summit in Kuwait, according to documents made available yesterday. The projects were approved along with other resolutions at a joint meeting of Arab foreign and finance ministers late Friday.

One draft resolution calls for “taking the necessary measures to announce the launch of an Arab Customs Union in 2010 and which will be completed in 2015.” The union will pave the way to set up a common Arab market in 2020.

The union and common market are aimed at boosting inter-Arab trade and luring investments from rich Arab states to poor countries.

Arab League figures show that inter-Arab trade only makes up between 10 per cent and 12 per cent of the total volume of Arab trade while inter-Arab investments have remained a small fraction of total Arab foreign investments.

Arab countries launched the Pan-Arab Free Trade Area about three years ago, but it did little to boost commerce among the 22 Arab League members.

At their summit today, the leaders are also expected to approve a resolution calling for the launch of an Arab rail network.

The resolution states the project will be implemented on a commercial basis and financing arranged through Arab, regional and international financial institutions and banks.