Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

North African Nations Look toward a Common Market

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

North African Nations Look toward a Common Market

Article excerpt

LIKE many North African businessmen, Said Tifahin speaks enthusiastically about the economic and political cooperation the five countries of the Maghreb are working to develop into a North African common market.

But when the manager of an Algerian fire extinguisher and safety materials manufacturer is asked about the effect that cooperation is having on his business today, his response is more measured.

"The potential of a large market with our neighbors is promising, but it is something for the future," says Mr. Tifahin. "For the moment, the intra-Maghreb market remains pretty small."

In February of 1989, the five countries of North Africa's Maghreb - Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia - put aside long-standing squabbles to form the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) to develop trade and other forms of cooperation.

High optimism led leaders like Morocco's King Hassan II to predict that the Maghreb's common history, geography, language, and economic interests would help the AMU achieve its goals faster than the European Community. Yet as the AMU's five heads of state meet in Algiers Saturday for their midyear summit, economic integration is coming much less rapidly than some anticipated.

In a world with regional trading blocks developing from Europe to Asia, the Maghreb experience is more an example of how difficult it will be for poorer countries, long linked economically to developed Western neighbors, to achieve their own interdependence. In Europe, established companies with ties throughout the region provide the impetus for creating a single market. But in the Maghreb, it is more governments that back integration, because the primary external links of businesses are with the West rather than neighboring countries.

With a population predicted to approach 100 million by the turn of the century, the five-country Maghreb market has a potential for growth that is real. But 18 months after the union's birth, less than 5 percent of the Maghreb countries' trade is with each other. While leaders discuss ideas for standardizing customs and tariffs, easing border restraints, and guaranteeing investments, the Maghreb's dependence on the rest of the world - and especially on the EC, with which it carries on nearly two-thirds of its trade - remains the unavoidable reality. …

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