We Must Play the Game, Not Watch it.
Throughout the world governments are now revitalizing their economies - some through drastic reforms, others through enacting laws that streamline the system. Arab economies, however, are not being liberalized quickly enough. Arab countries have not participated fully in the trade liberalization drive and so have not derived as much benefit as they could.
These observations were made by Peter Sutherland former head of the International trade body, GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade).
Years of economic decay, bureaucratic bunglings and a lack of vision have placed Arab economies at the bottom end of the scale.
What is even frustrating are the obstacles to trade which prevent all but the strongest from venturing into the region. These obstacles have prevented the flow of capital investments which went easily to the emerging markets of Asia and Latin America. This has also been due to the lack of clear and well-defined banking procedures as well as restrictive control by various monetary agencies. While other countries liberalized and embarked on drives for investments, many Arab countries were content with printing glossy brochures saying how they could provide industrial facilities which existed mainly in the brochures.
What was even more disturbing was the lack of statistics. Different ministries gave different figures. And for the disciplined peoples of South East Asia, this was an error not to be taken lightly. The lack of demographical studies, in addition to a lack of market surveys and other relevant information, contributed significantly to the absence of trade and investment by outsiders.
The tussle between "The B's" - business and bureaucracy - is obvious. While elsewhere captains of business and industry march along with bureaucrats, here each competes with the other. It is, therefore, of vital importance that in order for development to take place, a corresponding change in the economies - and not only cosmetic alone - occurs.
The Arabs also watch, wait and see; they should now, however, have had enough of this. Others have undertaken reforms and made progress. They watch and wait and see.
Liberal economies usher prosperity in while trade barriers, restrictive ownership rules, closed financial markets, a lack of data and information create obstacles to free trade among the Arabs.
It becomes imperative that, as we approach the 21st century, Arab governments do away with archaic rules and regulations and streamline their legal and administrative structures to attract foreign investors. Arab countries must also diversify. As Sutherland said, they will reap more benefits through faster economic growth.
The Arabs have no choice. Either they can shape up and get their act together or they will remain bystanders, watching the participants in the world trading system progress by leaps and bounds as they remain behind.
That will do them no good for it is playing the game that counts.
Topics: Arab World