The debate on foreign policy in the final presidential debate left me numb; the world is in full ebullition, but pertinent topics were unfortunately left off the table. President Obama, however, alluded at the fact that the United States is leading a coalition effort to provide economic stability to the Middle East and North African region (MENA), a subject that was presented by Jean-Pierre Chauffour from the World Bank during the World Conference of the World Customs Organization in Marrakech, Morocco, last month. Being offered a front seat to the conference was without a doubt the highlight of my month, and I enjoyed learning more about the "Deauville Partnership."
The study Chauffour expertly presented is rooted in the Deauville G-8 Declaration where, on May 26 and 27, 2011, the G-8 nations met in Deauville, France, to "renew their commitment for freedom and democracy." The Deauville Partnership is made of Germany, Saudi Arabia, Canada, United Arab Emirates, United States, France, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Qatar, Russia, U.K., Turkey, as well as nine international and regional financial institutions. Together, those partners have pledged to support the economic and political development of the nations considered part of the Arab Spring: Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.
According to Chauffour's report, titled and available in French only, "Rapport sur le Développement de la Région MENA: De l'éveil politique à l'éveil économique dans le monde arabe: la voie de l'intégration économique," the rate of unemployment in the MENA region is between 35-40%. In Jordan the unemployment rate for people under the age of 29 is 70%. In short, the 400 million people who form the MENA region export the same amount of goods and services as Switzerland does-a country of 7.5 million!
The presentation also noted that the recent political uproars the world witnessed in the MENA region through the Arab Spring highlights the fact that its citizens are indeed requesting fundamental changes. The poverty and lack of economic opportunities people experience in that region, according to Chauffour, must be turned into jobs that are created through the assistance of democratic governments where the institutions work for the people and not the other way around. To attract foreign investments, the region must develop some type of competitive edge rooted in specific skills or technology, just like other regions did (read: China, India, Brazil).
As I understand it, the Deauville Partnership's function is to offer a clear and ambitious strategic orientation for the region while analyzing and coming up with different scenarios that could profit the MENA region and thus provide economic advantages to its impoverished citizens. One forward concept Chauffour's team articulated was to progressively re-create a geo-economical structure for the region where the commercial goods would circulate freely, as well as services, capital, and (in time) people within the Mediterranean Basin.
In a way, the Mediterranean Basin trading zone that would be created would rehabilitate some traditional and ancestral trading partners in the region today known as Turkey, the Balkans, the Maghreb, the Machrek, and certain countries now part of the European Union. As such, each Deauville partnering country would agree to remove some of the commercial restrictions presently in place with MENA. For example, the United States could be asked to extend the current agreements it has with Jordan and Morocco to Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya and draft with those three countries some similar types of free-trade agreements.
Similarly, the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) would also be asked to invite Egypt and Tunisia to join the Council. This would allow nationals from the member countries to circulate, work and establish themselves throughout the region freely and thus benefit from a common system for health, education, and retirement. The list goes on to ask each Deauville partner to take the lead and facilitate the economic emancipation of the region.
While I applaud the concept and cherish the idea of a unified region that would promote economic growth and stability to millions of people in need, it is once again an effort from the West to push a region to emulate a trading pattern that has, it is true, made North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia successful. Those countries were, however, not in the same turmoil as the MENA region.
Also, looking back, as the report even states, we see that countless treaties have been written among Arab countries in the past, and practically none had any success in being implemented. Are they really waiting for the Deauville Partners to show them how it's done, or should we take their lack of interest as a sign that this may not be the right solution to the economic growth the region needs? Time will tell, but for now your guess is as good as mine...