Tunisia to host Maghreb summit
Democratic change is driving a renewed push to strengthen the Maghreb Union.
By Mona Yahia for Magharebia in Tunis – 29/05/12
[AFP/Fethi Belaid] Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane shakes with his Tunisian counterpart Hamadi Jebali upon his arrival in Tunis last Thursday.
A Maghreb summit between heads of state is expected to be held this coming October in Tunisia, marking the first regional gathering since the Tunisian and Libyan revolutions.
Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane announced the news Friday (May 25th) at the end of his two-day visit to Tunisia. The last Maghreb summit at the level of heads of state was in 1994, after which meetings were frozen over Algerian-Moroccan differences on Western Sahara.
“We want to proceed at the Maghreb summit different from before and to achieve practical and realistic things,” Benkirane said.
During his trip, Benkirane met with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali and Constituent Assembly President Mustapha Ben Jaafar.
“We have confirmed the need to overcome the barriers between the two countries, such as the barrier to residency of citizens in this country or the other, and to citizens in the two countries winning their rights, such as the right of residence and investment,” the Moroccan prime minister said.
Tunisia and Morocco are linked by the Agadir Agreement, signed in February 2004 and aimed at establishing a free trade zone in a first phase between Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. However, trade between the two countries did not exceed $292 million in 2011. Tunisian investments in Morocco are worth $62.5 million, while Moroccan investments in Tunisia total $37.54 million.
“There are bilateral agreements, but what is missing is the realisation of these agreements between the two countries at the level of countries and also businessmen,” Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said.
He called for promoting economic co-operation, both at the bilateral level and at the level of the Maghreb and the Arab world.
Constituent Assembly President Mostafa Ben Jafaar said, “We hope that this revolution that we experienced is reflected in a model of Maghreb convergence, making our region one capable of negotiating as equals with the international groupings.”
Economists estimate that the failure to complete the Maghreb Union costs the region 2% of gross domestic product, despite the fact that the Maghreb market has access to 85 million people, most of them young.
Habib Ben Yahia, secretary-general of the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), said his talks focused on the summit preparations. He added that foreign ministers would soon meet to discuss the matter.
“We hope the summit will be historic so we can produce a new experience strengthening the connections between Maghreb countries, because the international situation urges us toward further co-ordination among international institutions under the roof of the union so relations are strong,” Ben Yahia said.