Thursday, May 19, 2011

Gulf Cooperation Council Expansion Requires Serious Thought In Theory

Mohammad Al Asoomi writes: Development-related dilemmas will need to be addressed to allow the economy of an eight-member GCC to move forward without obstacles
This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 19/05/2011

Doha's skyline is seen at night.
  • Image Credit: Reuters
  • Doha's skyline is seen at night.

Even though adding new members to any economic or political bloc usually strengths that bloc, the views of analysts and observers on Jordan and Morocco joining the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have varied widely.
GCC leaders welcomed Jordan, who asked to join, and invited Morocco during their summit in Riyadh on May 10.

This strengthening is possible particularly in the economic sphere, when the appropriate conditions exist, such as harmonious relations between members.

As usual, many writers focused on the sentimental reasons, such as the Gulf dialect and different customs and traditions, to express their reservations. Such matters should not concern us as there are bigger and more important issues that must be highlighted.
Welcoming or not welcoming Jordan's and Morocco's bids does not mean a lot when it comes to the ability of both countries to meet specific requirements and procedures to join within specific timetables.

Establishing the qualifications of Jordan and Morocco to join are necessary so that their memberships would be based on strong and well-established grounds. Allowing them to join would not cause harm to the Gulf bloc.
Economic differences

There are big differences between the economies of the six countries on the one hand, and those of Jordan and Morocco on the other.
The populations of Jordan and Morocco together comprise 38 million people, which is almost equal to the total population of the six Gulf nations. The GDP of the GCC countries is $1,250 billion (Dh4,587.50 billion), while the combined GDPs of Jordan and Morocco are estimated at $130 billion. This means that the GDP of the six Gulf countries is ten times the combined GDPs of Morocco and Jordan, according to 2010 statistics.

The average per capita income in five GCC countries, excluding Qatar, amounts to $36,000 a year. The lowest is in Saudi Arabia and Oman, which have an annual average per capita income of $25,000. The per capita income in the UAE and Bahrain is estimated at $40,000, while it is $52, 000 in Kuwait.
Per capita income does not exceed $5,000 in either Morocco or Jordan. Fifteen per cent of the population in each country lives below the poverty line. The poor do not constitute a notable proportion in any of the six GCC member states.

The unemployment rate in Jordan and Morocco is as high as 14 per cent when compared to the low unemployment rates in the GCC.
In short, these development-related dilemmas will need to be addressed to allow the economy of an eight-member GCC to move forward without obstacles.

Multi-year programme
To achieve this, it is necessary to establish a multi-year programme for Jordan and Morocco in which major investments should be injected into the economies of both countries.

This is similar to the predetermined time schedules set by the European Union for the qualification of new candidates before allowing them to join. Some of these time schedules span ten years.
Even then, despite the existence of these programmes, the EU has suffered and is still suffering from poor economic conditions in the countries of southern and eastern Europe. Part of the current crises in Greece, Portugal and Romania were a result of the huge gap between their economies and the economies of countries such as Germany and France. However, forward-thinking and the time-bound qualification programmes have contributed significantly to curbing the consequences of rapid developments.

In addition to pumping in investments, the qualification process also includes preparation of the legislative and legal infrastructure in both countries to better comply with laws and legislation in the Gulf countries, which are many and complex.
Wider scope

Without doing so, the economies of Jordan and Morocco will continue to be beyond the scope of the Gulf economy.
If these qualifications are implemented, we can be reassured of their success and then welcome Jordan and Morocco to join us in the Gulf club, which would give a big boost to the GCC, push it forward and contribute to maintaining it in view of the dangerous and sharply volatile changes in the region and the world.

Dr Mohammad Al Asoomi is a UAE economic expert.

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