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Regional economies trade far more with Europe, United States and Asia than they do among themselves. Above, Jebel Ali port. Pawan Singh / The National
Regional economies trade far more with Europe, United States and Asia than they do among themselves. Above, Jebel Ali port. Pawan Singh / The National

GCC officials call for faster flow of trade

GCC officials have called for the removal of barriers blocking the flow of trade and faster economic growth in the region.

GCC officials have called for the removal of barriers blocking the flow of trade and faster economic growth in the region.

Rules covering such matters as product standards and customs procedures have served to inhibit trade within the region.

"There are barriers to trade. We are making more progress in the GCC than elsewhere in the Arab world [to boost trade] but there's still more that can be done," said Abdulaziz Alkelaibi, the head of the World Trade Organisation unit at the GCC Secretariat, on the sidelines of a recent seminar in Dubai to discuss closer Arab trade integration.

The WTO has warned about a rise in protectionist measures across the world since the global financial crisis as countries seek to safeguard themselves from foreign competition amid tepid consumer demand and high unemployment.

In the Arab world, such action has become especially common.

Taxes on goods exported within the region have come down in recent years under free-trade agreements. But in their place, rules have sprung up, ranging from restrictions on exports of raw materials used to make certain goods, to strict government contracting regulations.

Ali Giddo Adam, the head of division of policies at Sudan Customs Authority, said the country's exporters often faced excessive red tape when exporting live cattle to certain markets in the region.

"There are sanitary rules that can add days to the export procedure," he said.

Removing so-called non-tariff measures is considered key to boosting trade within the region. At the moment, most Arab countries trade far more with Europe, the United States and Asia than they do with each other.

Only 11 per cent of Arab non-oil exports are within the region, one of the lowest rates of intra-regional trade in the world, according to a recent report by the International Trade Centre.

"The removal of non-tariff barriers is at the forefront for dealing with other issues like welfare and prosperity, and improving the business environment [with measures against] bribery and corruption," said El Hassane Hzaine, the director general of the Islamic Centre for Development of Trade, based in Jeddah.

Getting rid of non-tariff measures in the Arab world could raise trade by 10 per cent and create more than two million jobs, the ITC report said.

Of particular concern it highlighted "rules of origin", which require exporters to produce extra paperwork if their goods contain material from third countries.

tarnold@thenational.ae

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