for Greater Economic Integration in the Maghreb“
with Ghazi Ben Ahmed, General Secretary-General, the Club de Tunis
On November 26th, Pathways to
Progress: Peace, Prosperity and Change in the Middle East sponsored a roundtable discussion on prospects for Maghreb economic
integration with Ghazi Ben Ahmed, Secretary-General of the Club de Tunis, a
newly-established Tunisian think-tank. Ben Ahmed, a former trade expert at
the European Commission and the African Development Bank, outlined Tunisia’s
current challenges and touched on political developments in neighboring
countries Libya, Morocco, and Algeria. He stressed the need for economic growth
to ensure the region’s stability, noting that Tunisia faces a number of
challenges including poor infrastructure in sub-regions of the country,
smuggling at the frontiers, and high unemployment. He said that nearly
one million Tunisians are unemployed.
The Club de Tunis is undertaking
research on promoting cross-border trade and investment at the local
level. Specifically, the organization has launched a pilot project that
seeks to promote cross-border trade between the Tunisian town of Le Kef and the
Algerian town of Souk Akhras, just across the border. They plan to initiate a
similar project between Tunisia and Libya. These pilot projects seek to
understand the different dynamics of regional trade and economic integration in
hopes of applying the lessons to future regional integration efforts.
Acknowledging longstanding tensions between Morocco and Algeria, Ben Ahmed
noted his organization’s plan to explore the possibility of establishing an
“economic corridor” between Morocco and Algeria by opening the border for trade
in limited areas at the local level.
Ben Ahmed also focused on
changing perceptions of the private sector in the region. He noted that
the private sector in both Tunisia and Libya is influencing the policy debate
and playing a greater role as these countries map their futures. Going
forward, the private sector and business class will play a leading role in
pushing for greater regional trade.
Ben Ahmed concluded with
outlining a role for the US and other international actors in supporting
Tunisia and other Maghreb countries. He called for the United States to
leverage its considerable expertise with entrepreneurship and private sector
development in order to facilitate new partnerships between government, private
sector, and NGOs. Ben Ahmed emphasized that while the future situation in
the Maghreb is unclear, renewed interest in regional economic development
presents a positive path to the region’s future.