Prospects for Greater Economic Integration in the Maghreb

November 26, 2012 | 12:00 AM

 

"Prospects 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.