Economic integration

Missed opportunities and economic integration

File photo of the foreign ministers of Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia during a meeting on February 18, 2012 in Rabat to try to relaunch a union of North African countries. AFP PHOTO / ABDELHAK SENNA

Ali Noureddine

This article has been translated from Arabic.

The Arab Maghreb Union was founded 33 years ago with the intention of serving as a forum for the economic and financial integration of five nations who represented the western region of the Arab world.

The union and its institutions still seem to exist today, but the effort lack achieve the objectives of its founders despite the fact that the five Member States possess all the elements necessary for the desired integrationwhich could achieve self-sufficiency for these countries.

Today, it seems clear that political factors and conflicts have largely contributed to hampering this project and gradually reducing its role. Consequently, this union today remains in a state of paralysis, not seizing the opportunities that could have benefited the peoples of the Member States.

Hesitant attempts at cooperation before the creation of the union

The idea of ​​establishing a union for Arab Maghreb states surfaced before the member countries achieved independence. The proposal was discussed in 1958 at a conference bringing together the Moroccan Independence Partythe Tunisian Constitutional Party and the Algerian National Liberation Front.

These three political movements were then engaged in their struggles for the independence of their respective countries, prompting them to hold a conference in the Moroccan city of Tangier to coordinate their work and consider the future of their country after independence.

At conclusion of the conference, it was agreed that the possible creation of a federation, which would unite Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria after independence, would be discussed. It was also decided that a permanent secretariat of six members would be created to follow up on this issue.

However, the ambitions of these countries as to the level of cooperation that could be achieved between them diminished once they gained independence and established their own economic and financial policies. As a result, they abandoned the notion of a federal union and moved towards more pragmatic ideas. Thereby, joint cooperation attempts remains limited to the signing of the Rabat Treaty in 1963, which aims to broaden the scope of trade between Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

A year later, the Consultative Committee for the Maghreb was created to monitor the proposals submitted to develop cooperation between the three countries. However, all these initiatives remained ink on paper and the objectives set were not implemented, perhaps because of the army border conflict between Morocco and Algeria at the time.

Cooperation treaties were then concluded between the countries of North West Africa, with the “Unionist Declaration of Djerba” sign between Libya and Tunisia in 1974. The Treaty of Mostaganem was then signed between Libya and Algeria, followed by the Treaty of Brotherhood and Concord between Algeria, Tunisia and Mauritania in 1983.

All of these treaties aimed to strengthen the frameworks for economic cooperation between the signatory countries for their mutual benefit. However, none of these treaties has succeeded in establishing a union or council with clear powers that pursue common interests, as in the case of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which came into being in 1980.

The failure of these attempts to form a permanent union or council could be attributed to the strong differences between the economic and political systems in place in the Maghreb countries at the time, in contrast to the similarity of the political and economic systems of the Maghreb states. Gulf. .

Algeria, for example, had until then adhered to its socialist economic policy, with a clear leaning towards the regimes of the Eastern bloc (the Soviet Union and its allies), unlike the other countries of the Maghreb. Moreover, the political systems adopted in these countries differed, as well as their international orientations and alignments, making the formation of such a union extremely difficult.

Creation of the federation in 1989

The Arab Maghreb Union was finally established February 17, 1989, by the Treaty of Marrakech signed by Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco and Mauritania. After many failed attempts, the success of these five countries in forming the union at this stage was due to their fear of being marginalized as other regional cooperation unions were formed.

The main challenge faced by the Maghreb countries at the time was the growth of cooperation and integration frameworks between European countries and their block. This raised concerns about the impact the European bloc would have on their interests in light of the high levels of trade between the Maghreb countries and their northern European neighbours.

Therefore, the formation of the Arab Maghreb Union at that time reflected the need of member states for a regional bloc that would protect their economic and trade interests, unlike other regional blocs. In addition, the resumption of diplomatic relations between Algeria and Morocco facilitated the birth of the union, which had previously been delayed due to tensions between the two countries.

At the time, the treaty establishing the union stipulated ambitious economic, political and financial goals, as well as the achievement of the free movement of people, goods, services and capital between the five countries, which meant the creation of a common market. The treaty also stipulated the establishment of diplomatic cooperation between the five countries on the international scene, the preservation of the independence of the member states in the field of defense, as well as the realization of common economic projects.

In terms of structure, the union consists of a Presidency Council which includes the heads of the five member states, as well as a Shura Council elected by the representative bodies of each of these states. In addition, the union includes a judicial body that rules on disputes that may arise from the interpretation and application of treaties between member states, as well as an academy of sciences, a university and a bank to finance investments and foreign trade. Finally, the union’s executive affairs are managed by a secretariat, based in Morocco, as well as by executive committees specializing in the issues dealt with by the union.

Missed opportunities

Unfortunately, the Arab Maghreb Union did not play any of the roles envisaged, as no global summit of the Union’s Presidency Council was convened. since 1994. This is a missed opportunity for the people of the Maghreb region, where the combined territories of the member states of the union amount to 6.04 million square kilometres, an area larger than that of the Union. European Union with a population exceeding 100 million.

The main advantage of such a union would have been to ensure the self-sufficiency of its peoples, if it did so in a way that guaranteed integration between the member states. Today there are various economic and natural resources within the union, such as iron in Mauritania, Algeria and Morocco; natural gas in Algeria; oil in Libya; wheat in Algeria and Morocco; gold in Morocco; as well as tourist imports and transfers from expatriates in Tunisia. It is clear that such a union could have ensured a great integration between the five countries if its objectives had been achieved, the most important of which was the opening of the common market and the increase in trade between the member states.

Thus, the countries of the Arab Maghreb Union have not been able to offer their peoples the opportunity for such integration. This is evident from the figures which indicate that the proportion of intra-regional trade between member states does not exceed 5 per cent of the total commercial transactions carried out by the countries of the union. This small figure alone indicates that the Union has failed to obtain advantages in terms of promoting trade between Member States since the vast majority of trade and economic treaties concluded have not been put into practice.

Figures from the International Monetary Fund indicate that Maghreb countries could eliminate 20% of their unemployment rate once they reach the stage of economic integration. The Fund’s figures also show that Maghreb countries can attract foreign workers seven years after reaching this stage. In other words, today the peoples of the Maghreb are paying the price for the failure to activate the union, its institutions and its treaty. Such activation would have precipitated significant economic growth through the integration of their economies and the establishment of a common market that would open the doors of trade between the states of the region.

Reasons for failure

There are various reasons for the failure which led to the paralysis of the institutions of the union for more than three decades, as well as the failure to perform any of the agreed upon roles. The first of them relates to the political conflicts which broke out between Member States, such as that between Algeria and Morocco following the attacks on a hotel in Marrakech, Morocco, and Morocco accusing the Algerian intelligence services of being involved in the attack.

This particular conflict has reached the point of closing their mutual border, which contradicts the principle of a union based on strengthening cooperation between its member states. In addition, the sanctions imposed on Libya contributed to isolating the Gaddafi regime from the international community and prevented Libya from engaging in joint investment projects with neighboring countries. In addition, Tunisia, Libya and Algeria have experienced a number of political and security developments over the past decade that have reduced their interest in any attempt to develop regional cooperation frameworks.

Thus, the Maghreb countries today urgently need the benefits that a union can bring, especially in light of the economic crises that necessitate such regional cooperation. However, some of these countries, such as Tunisia and Libya, have endured tough political battles that continue to hamper any attempt to activate such ambitious projects. Working on the frameworks necessary to achieve economic integration requires political stability, which allows for the cooperation needed to formulate common financial and customs policies in accordance with the common interests of member states. With all of this in mind, it is highly unlikely that the functions of the Arab Maghreb Union will be activated in the near future.