Economic and Social Affairs Committee – Background Guide

Topic I: Reviewing progress toward implementation of the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA) and considering further measures for Arab economic integration

I. Introduction to the Topic

     A. GENERAL BACKGROUND

The international economic system has become increasingly interconnected and competitive over the last half century, and within this context Arab states are now more active than ever in negotiating trade agreements across the globe. Nevertheless, economic stagnation has remained a persistent problem in parts of the Arab world, so several key regional leaders have begun working towards increased inter-regional cooperation and advancement.

The Greater Arab Free Trade Area was created as the most far-reaching trade agreement to be implemented in the Arab world in order to meet these international pressures. Eighteen of the twenty-two members of the League of Arab States have become signatories of the initiative. The agreement seeks to facilitate an overarching inclusive trade structure between all Arab states. GAFTA’s goals include: the removal of tariffs, a reduction in monetary and administrative non-tariff barriers, liberalization in agricultural market trading, and increased sub-regional and bilateral trade agreements. Member states are also expected to take part in consultation on research cooperation and technology (Abedine & Péridy, 851).

     B. HISTORY OF THE TOPIC IN THE ARAB WORLD

Trade integration in the Arab region began as early as the formation of the League of Arab States in 1945 through various regional and sub-regional agreements and organizations, including: the 1950 Treaty for Joint Defense and Economic Cooperation, the 1953 Convention for Facilitating and Regulating Transit Trade, the 1957 Arab Economic Unity Agreement, the 1964 Arab Common Market, and the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab Cooperation Council, and the Arab Maghreb Union (Abedine & Péridy, 850-851).

The Greater Arab Free Trade Area was adopted officially on February 19, 1997 in the Economic and Social Council’s Resolution No. 1317 (“Greater Arab Free Trade Area,” Jordan). This resolution set a 10 year plan for the establishment of the pan-Arab free trade area; which eliminated official customs duties between its 18 signatories in 2005, with the exceptions made for Palestine, Sudan and Yemen. But many non-tariff barriers still remain between states, and a number of goods, particularly agricultural, remain protected through official government policies and tariffs.

Intra-regional trade has increased at a moderate pace since the inception of the agreement in 1997, reaching a 10.7% share of all trade from the region in 2012. Total exports from GAFTA signatories increased 11% and totaled $1.2 trillion in 2012. It was hoped that a final agreement to unify regional customs regimes could be reached at the Arab Summit in Doha in 2013, and encourage further growth in the region’s export market (Al Bawaba). However other pressing regional issues received the lion’s share of the delegations’ deliberations, and an Economic and Social Council proposal to facilitate this did not move beyond the initial stages.

     C. FINDING A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

A leading concern for the future of GAFTA is integrating its four sub-regional blocs into a viable regional structure. Seventy-five percent of the exports produced by Gulf Cooperation Council members (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates) stay within those six states. Sixty-five percent of exports by Maghreb (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia) states go to other North African states. Thirty percent of trade done in the Eastern Mediterranean (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria) is between those countries (Minsiesy et al.). Attempts to resolve this issue have so far revolved around gradual reductions in tariffs and non-trade barriers within the region, producing limited success.

Another of the most cited criticisms of GAFTA is the number and amount of tariff exemptions, and the likelihood of more being instated. The majority of these exemptions are related to agricultural products; nine commodities for seven months per calendar year can be exempted by all signatories. Commodity exemptions for industrial products are being debated in the Economic and Social Council of the League of Arab States at this time (“Greater Arab Free Trade Area,” UAE). While the region is making a gradual move to a more liberalized trade system, trade barriers are being erected and slowing the progress of the Agreement.

Rules of Origin constitute another key debate for GAFTA signatories as there is no unified or codified set to which members must adhere (Mohamadieh). Without a unified set of rules, many of the member states find themselves at disadvantaged positions when trading both with states outside of the Agreement and each other. There is currently a discussion on which model of rules to adopt within the signatory community, but discussions have born little fruit and outside forces continue to take advantage of the vulnerability of member states.

II. Questions to Consider in Your Research

  • What is your country’s position on tariffs and non-tariff barriers?
  • Is your country actively involved current negotiations?
  • Which commodities does your country wish to protect?
  • What are your country’s major exports?
  • Is your country a signatory of GAFTA?
  • How large of an impact would increased or decreased intra-regional trade have on your country’s economy?

III. Questions a Resolution Might Answer

  • As a reduction in trade barriers can be detrimental for domestic industry, how can the economic shocks be mitigated throughout the liberalization process?
  • What regionally acceptable form will the customs and tariff system take?
  • How can the council encourage more trade between the regions sub-regional trade blocs?
  • In what way can Rules of Origin be addressed by the League?

IV. Resources to Review

  • United Arab Emirates. Ministry of Foreign Trade. Greater Arab Free Trade Area. 2009. Web. http://moft.gov.ae/wto/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=57&Itemid=25&lang=en.
  • League of Arab States General Secretariat. General Department of Economic Affairs. Agreement to Facilitate and Develop Trade Among Arab States. Cairo: , 1981. Web. http://www.mit.gov.jo/portals/0/Facilitate and Develop Trade Among Arab States.pdf.
  • The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Ministry of Industry and Trade. Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA).Web. http://www.mit.gov.jo/Default.aspx?tabid=732.

V. Citations

  • Abedini, Javad, and Péridy Nicolas. “The Greater Arab Free Trade Area(GAFTA): an Estimation of Its Trade Effects.” Journal of Economic Integration. 23.4 (2008): 850-851. Print.
  • The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Ministry of Industry and Trade. Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA).Web. http://www.mit.gov.jo/Default.aspx?tabid=732.
  • Mohamadieh, Kinda, ed. Free Trade in the Arab Region. Cairo: Arab NGO Network for Development, 2006. 6-9. Print.
  • Miniesy, Rania S.; Nugent, Jeffrey B; and Yousef, Tarik M. “Intra-regional Trade Integration in the Middle East.” Trade Policy and Economic Integration in the Middle East and North Africa: Economic Boundaries in Flux. New York: Routledge Curzon. 2004.
  • “Trade between 18 Arab countries hikes to $2.1 trillion – IMF.” Al Bawaba. 12 May 2013: Web. 25 Jun. 2013. http://www.albawaba.com/business/arab-trade-imf-491118.
  • United Arab Emirates. Ministry of Foreign Trade. Greater Arab Free Trade Area. 2009. Web. http://moft.gov.ae/wto/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=57&Itemid=25=en.

Topic II: Creating strategies to improve regional food security such as collaborative agricultural research, joint projects, and management of external supply

I. Introduction to the Topic

     A. GENERAL BACKGROUND

Arab countries are facing severe food shortages, with the prospect of these shortages extending and intensifying in the foreseeable future despite the numerous initiatives and regional efforts to combat this situation. The food commodities most affected by shortages include; grains, vegetable oils and sugars. Regional food supplies are further reduced by continued exploitation and un-economical practices involving water and land resources (AOAD, 1). Recognizing the gravity of this issue, the League of Arab States issued the Tunis Summit Declaration on Sustainable Agricultural Development and Food Security in the Arab Region (2004). Further, in 2007 the Arab Organization for Agricultural Development (AOAD) launched the Strategy for Sustainable Agricultural Development. The AOAD was founded in 1970, and this 20 year initiative is its most far-reaching program (AOAD: Introduction).

According to the World Health Organization food security requires three key elements: sufficient quantities of food available on a consistent basis, sufficient resources to obtain the proper nutrition, and appropriate use based on knowledge of nutrition and adequate water sanitation (“Food Security”). Arab states are among the fastest developing in the world, fueled by government programs focused on industrialization and urbanization. Such programs draw attention away from agricultural development and serve to further push production capabilities farther behind. This lack of development and increased urban population sizes has put an enormous strain on dwindling agricultural assets, in a region which imports over 50% of its caloric needs (Babar & Kamrava, 1-3). The Arab Awakening has served to highlight the depth to which food insecurity shapes economic, political, and social stability in the region.

     B. HISTORY OF THE TOPIC IN THE ARAB WORLD

Food Security and instability in the Middle East and North Africa have shared a close connection; in the 1980s and 90s, food riots swept across the region after many governments reduced subsidies in order to pay international debts. The 2008 food crisis, and its resurgence in 2011, has provided ample evidence that food security continues to be a poignant subject. Food prices increased 83% between 2006 and 2008, and the price spike in 2011 pushed 44 million people into poverty globally. A disproportionate number of those affected reside in the Arab world; three-quarters of the population lives in poor rural areas where access to nutritional resources is very limited (Babar & Kamrava, 2). According to the World Bank, 52% of imports to the MENA region are composed of wheat, which will increase by as much as 64% over the next 20 years (Larson, Lampiette, and et al).

     C. FINDING A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

The Strategy for Sustainable Arab Agricultural Development (SSAAD) developed by the League of Arab States Arab Organization for Agricultural Development has outlined a number of key objectives that any regional developmental initiative must meet. These objectives include: conservation of arable lands, improved management and conservation of water, integration of national resources and agencies, joint projects to modernize technology, sub-regional developmental and regulatory programs, regional, national and local specialized training, and joint investment enterprises (AOAD, 14-16).

Another avenue for increasing food security may be an expansion of food storage programs and facilities in the region. Comprehensive food storage systems would allow a strategic reserve of resources to be used to offset short term commodity price spikes similar to those experienced in 2008 and 2011. The region now holds 13% of global wheat stocks, a position which has been gradually built over the last 30 years by states concerned with previous food crises (Larson, Lampiette, et al).

II. Questions to Consider in Your Research

  • Which parts, if any, of the SSAAD has your state implemented?
  • What national or regional policies has your state developed to improve food security, if any?
  • In which international organizations and agreements does your state take part, and what actions does it take as member of those bodies?
  • What limiting factors are contributing to food insecurity in your state?
  • To what extent is your state dependent on food imports?

III. Questions A Resolution Might Answer

  • Are the current SSAAD programs working or viable? Can they be amended or improved?
  • What developmental challenges have yet to be addressed by this body? How can those issues be dealt with?
  • Would new or current programs cooperate with other international organizations? How can they be expanded?
  • How will current and new programs be funded?

IV. Sources to Review

  • League of Arab States. Arab Organization for Agricultural Development. Strategy for Sustainable Arab Agricultural Development For the Upcoming Two Decades (2005-2025). Khartoum: 2007. Web. http://www.aoad.org/strategy/straenglish.pdf.
  • Larson, Donald, Julian Lampiette, and et al. “Food Security and Storage in the Middle East and North Africa.”The World Bank. Development Research Group: Agricultural and Rural Development Team, n.d. Web. http://elibrary.worldbank.org/content/workingpaper/10.1596/1813-9450-6031.
  • Babar, Zahra, and Mehran Kamrava. “Food Security and Food Sovereignty in the Middle East.” Trans. Food Security and Food Sovereignty in the Middle East Working Group Summary Report. Doha: Center for International and Regional Studies Georgetown University School of International Relations Qatar, 2012. 1-3. Web. 2 Jul. 2013. http://www12.georgetown.edu/sfs/qatar/cirs/FoodSecuritySummaryReport.pdf.

V. Citations

  • League of Arab States. Arab Organization for Agricultural Development. Strategy for Sustainable Arab Agricultural Development for the Upcoming Two Decades (2005-2025). Khartoum: 2007. Web. http://www.aoad.org/strategy/straenglish.pdf.
  • League of Arab States. Arab Organization for Agricultural Development. Arab Organization for Agricultural Development: Introduction. Khartoum: AOAD, 2009. Web. http://www.aoad.org/about_en.htm.
  • “Food Security.” World Health Organization. World Health Organization. Web. http://www.who.int/trade/glossary/story028/en/.
  • Babar, Zahra, and Mehran Kamrava. “Food Security and Food Sovereignty in the Middle East.” Trans. Food Security and Food Sovereignty in the Middle East Working Group Summary Report. Doha: Center for International and Regional Studies Georgetown University School of International Relations Qatar, 2012. 1-3. Web. 2 Jul. 2013. http://www12.georgetown.edu/sfs/qatar/cirs/FoodSecuritySummaryReport.pdf.
  • Larson, Donald, Julian Lampiette, and et al. “Food Security and Storage in the Middle East and North Africa.” The World Bank. Development Research Group: Agricultural and Rural Development Team, n.d. Web. http://elibrary.worldbank.org/content/workingpaper/10.1596/1813-9450-6031.

Topic III: Determining a regional framework for the role and operation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in member states

I. Introduction to the Topic

     A. GENERAL BACKGROUND

Although an exact definition of a non-governmental organization, or NGO, is constantly changing and evolving, the most commonly used definition is that of the United Nations Rule of Law. This definition states that an NGO, sometimes known as a civil society organization (CSO), is “a not-for-profit group, principally independent from government, which is organized on a local, national or international level to address issues in support of the public good” (“Non-governmental Organizations”). Although NGOs have existed on an international platform since well before the establishment of prominent international organizations (IOs) such as the United Nations and Arab League, their interconnectedness with said organizations has rapidly grown and expanded. Proof of this is the fact that, according to Article 71 of the UN Charter, certain NGOs such as the Red Cross, etc, can have a consultative status with bodies such as the United Nations Economic and Social Council (EcoSoc)(“Non-governmental Organizations”). Despite this, the relationship between an NGO and an IO, or even a single sovereign country, is often defined by its unique location, orientation, and cooperation.

To be more specific, sovereign governments, IOs, and IGOs all have their own ways of categorizing NGOs. The World Bank, for example, divides NGOs into either an operational or an advocacy category, with the former mostly working in relief capacities and the later functioning more as a “lobbying” group. Further sub-categorization occurs when NGOs are broken down based on their orientation and operational structures (Vakil). Despite their many differences, the majority of NGOs can be viewed as organizations whose goals are to further the social, political, or economic objectives of their affiliates and creators.

     B. HISTORY OF THE TOPIC IN THE ARAB WORLD

While NGOs have existed in the Arab World since the 19th century (Nefissa), their scope and usage has evolved significantly. The upheaval and conflicts in much of the Arab world over the past three years has further complicated the status of NGOs. Whereas each member state treats NGOs differently depending on the type of organization and situational aspects, all Arab countries are impacted by NGO law individually and collectively.

NGOs face staunch opposition in certain Middle East and North African (MENA) countries. The most high-profile recent case was in Egypt, which convicted 43 foreign nationals and sentenced them (most in absentia) to prison time (“US Criticises Egypt Sentencing of NGO Workers”). The Egyptian government has long struggled with the issue of NGOs, particularly those that are foreign-led and funded, and intermittently cracked down on civil society groups. This latest trial resulted in significant international outcry, while the then-government claimed Egypt had the sovereignty to close down NGOs which were operating illegally according to a Mubarak-era law and a more draconian law recently approved by the Morsi government (Wittes). This case, while high profile in the United States and elsewhere, is an example of how NGOs have been addressed by Arab governments over issues of governance, sovereignty, and funding.

     C. FINDING A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

This topic, therefore, is asking delegates to discuss possible Arab League-wide solutions to addressing NGOs. Delegates should focus on international issues, rather than domestic issues, while remaining aware of the impacts domestic situations may have internationally. The League does not have its own definition or method of categorization for NGOs operating within its borders. Many Arab countries fund NGOs in other Arab countries, further complicating negotiations and regulation-making in the League – “foreign NGOs” are not exclusively Western NGOs. Delegates should also consider organizations, both Arab-led and not, which operate across borders, such as the Red Crescent or the Red Cross. Most importantly, the issue of national sovereignty will be an important factor for all member states.

II. Questions to Consider in Your Research

  • Does my country have domestic laws regulating NGOs? In what environment do NGOs in my country operate?
  • Does my country fund NGOs in other countries?
  • What definition does my country use to label or categorize NGOs? Does it fit the UN definition or the definition used by other Arab countries?
  • Does my country have any special interests or perceived threats which NGOs might help or exacerbate?

III. Questions a Resolution Might Answer

  • Would a universal definition or registration process be in the interest of the League?
  • How the interests of Arab governments and NGOs be aligned?
  • What sources and methods of funding should be acceptable for NGOs in the region?
  • Are there models of successful NGO governance being implemented in the region or elsewhere that could be emulated by the League?

IV. Resources to Review

  • Hamid, Shadi. “Civil Society in the Arab World and the Dilemma of Funding.” Brookings.edu. The Brookings Institution, Oct. 2010. Web. <http://www.brookings.edu/research/articles/2010/10/middle-east-hamid>.
  • “POMED Notes: “Egypt’s Draft NGO Law–Impact and Implications”.” POMED.org. The Project on Middle East Democracy, 10 June 2013. Web. <http://pomed.org/blog/2013/06/pomed-notes-egypts-draft-ngo-law-impact-and-implications.html/>.
  • Freedom House: Middle East and North Africa. Freedom House, n.d. Web. <http://www.freedomhouse.org/regions/middle-east-and-north-africa>.
  • “Nonstate Actors and Nongovernmental Organizations.” CFR.org/Issue. Council on Foreign Relations, n.d. Web. <http://www.cfr.org/issue/nonstate-actors-and-nongovernmental-organizations/ri90>.

V. Citations

  • “Non-governmental Organizations.” UNROL.org. United Nations Rule of Law, n.d. Web. http://www.unrol.org/article.aspx?article_id=23.
  • Vakil, Anna (December 1997). “Confronting the classification problem: Toward a taxonomy of NGOs”. World Development 25 (12): 2057–2070.
  • Nefissa, Sarah B. “NGOs, Governance and Developmentin the Arab World – Discussion Paper No. 46.” UNESCO.org. United Nations Organization for Education, Science, and Culture, 3 Apr. 2001. Web. http://www.unesco.org/most/nefissae.htm.
  • “US Criticises Egypt Sentencing of NGO Workers.” AlJazeera.com. Al Jazeera English, 5 June 2013. Web. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/06/201364231748620669.html.
  • Wittes, Tamara C. “Egypt’s NGOs Matter.” Mideast.foreignpolicy.com. Foreign Policy, 5 June 2013. Web. http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/06/05/egypts_ngos_matter.

Student Leadership Development Program from the National Council on US-Arab Relations