11 February 2013

North Africa: Economists Urge Maghreb Co-Operation

Casablanca — The Paris Economic Forum - Casablanca Round targeted ways to move the Maghreb forward.

Economic experts and government officials from all over the world travelled to Morocco last week to discuss the need for economic co-operation among Maghreb countries.

The lack of a working Maghreb Union is costing each country between two and three percentage points of growth, Tunisia's former finance minister Jaloul Ayed told attendees at the 4th "Paris Economic Forum - Casablanca Round", held on Wednesday (February 6th).

"I stress once again the absolute need for the Maghreb Union... a Union which would facilitate shared prosperity for all peoples in the region," Ayed added.

Moroccan Finance Minister Nizar Baraka said that in order to seize opportunities in a time of crisis, efforts needed to be pooled at the regional level.

The democratic enthusiasm in the region should be harnessed and consolidated, he said, noting that democracy can only be meaningful if it translates into job creation, the restoration of social mobility and improvements in citizens' lives.

"This is why, for us, economic integration is essential and could be achieved through a cross-Maghreb growth pact with a shared ambition and a unifying aim: shared prosperity for all and the creation of a society of trust in North Africa," he said.

He added that a competitive bloc needed to be created, so that it could position itself as a partner to the European Union.

The Maghreb Union, if realised, will guarantee internal political stability in the member countries and make the region attractive to foreign direct investors, Baraka said. Experts agreed the Maghreb could take advantage of its assets to bring about economic and social development.

International Monetary Fund (FMI) Dominique Strauss-Khan spoke about Morocco's economic potential as well as the difficulties facing the region.

"We have moments in history where we must make difficult decisions that allow us to locate and seize the positive," Moroccan daily L'Economiste quoted Strauss-Khan as saying.

About 75 per cent of the region's population is aged between 18 and 30, noted Claire Spencer, head of the Middle East and North African programme at UK think-tank Chatham House.

This provides a major opportunity for Maghreb economic recovery, especially since the populations of the region's European partners were ageing, she said.

The countries of the Maghreb must make full use of this asset, Spencer said, adding that it was essential for the aspirations of this social segment to be realised.

Economist Mehdi Zariri told Magharebia that the countries of the Maghreb are experiencing the same social and economic problems and must therefore come together to establish common strategies.

"It's vital to capitalise on the ways in which the economies of Maghreb nations complement one another, as they could form a strong economic unit in Africa," he said.

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