The Maghreb with 99,380,000 inhabitants with a $375.6 billion GDP in 2017 is in north-west Africa, as delimited to the north by the Mediterranean and to the south by the Sahara, in the west by the Atlantic Ocean and by Egypt in the East. Revival of the Arab Maghreb Union, despite its huge development potential and common cultural and linguistic ties, “the Maghreb is one of the least integrated regions in the world”. Studies have shown that the removal of barriers in the region could have significant economic benefits, support efforts to combat instability and help address several regional challenges including socio-economic development, combating climate change, protecting the environment and developing clean, sustainable energy.

Part 1 – Realities and perspectives

The total area of Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) is 5.8 million km², representing 4.3% of the world’s area and exceeding almost 80% of the area of the European Union is mostly desert. On February 17, 2018, the AMU celebrated its 30th birthday. At the end of November 2018, its Secretary-General was requested by Algeria to arrange a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers in order to revive the notion of a Maghreb together and the reactivation of its bodies. The purpose of the contribution that follows many international contributions on this subject is to draw up the balance sheet and look at prospects.

The Maghreb is confronted with the emergence of a globalised economy and society to numerous challenges.  On the one hand, the nation states have difficulties to cope with the world economy’s upheavals and on the other, to face the international institutions as a unified front.

Governments across the AMU’s nation states per the current crisis are almost unable to fulfil their missions as a result of the complexity of modern societies and the emergence of the multitude of fragmented subsystems. The uncertainty feeds on the crisis of political representation, hence the need to integrate more into a larger ensemble in order to be able to respond to new global concerns is dragging on.  A centrepiece in the Euro-Mediterranean and African region, the Maghreb as the origin of the new migratory flows is fast becoming a geostrategic and economic issue for the European Union, the USA and China in the context of a competition.  Three countries of the UMA, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria have signed their “Euro-Mediterranean Association” agreements that go well beyond the simple trade liberalisation as initiated as early as the end of the years 1960 in the framework of the first Euro-Maghrebin trade agreements.  It is commonly acknowledged that the results of this association agreement are mixed. However, since then, we have a new data which is that of the Union for the Mediterranean which tends to be supplanted at present by the 5 + 5 Summit which enshrines economic cooperation and Maghreb integration as a priority.  This principle of economic integration (by the market) of the Maghreb countries, the idea came during the two conferences of ministers of the economy of the Maghreb, the first on 26 September 1964 and the second on 26 November of the same year in Tangier (Morocco).  These two conferences culminated in the establishment of the Maghreb Consultative Standing Committee (MCSC).  It is responsible for studying all problems associated with economic cooperation between the North African countries.  After three years of trials and errors, the Maghreb community issue is precise, and in 1967, the MCSC produced a report in which three types of solutions were put forward from the integrationist perspective.  These are:

  • The maximum solution would imply the signature of a treaty establishing the Maghreb Economic Union on the model of the Treaty of Rome. it would mean the fixing of a timetable for the elimination of customs duties and quota restrictions, establishment of a standard exterior tariff, harmonisation of economic, fiscal and monetary policies and finally the establishment of joint institutions with decision-making powers;
  • The minimum solution which would make the gradual creation of an economic union a mere declaration of intent, the only legal commitments limited to the periodic participation in negotiations on tariff concessions or the choice of places of new industries;
  • The intermediate solution based on the interaction between trade liberalisation and technical harmonisation should cover a period of 5 years during which the Maghreb countries would commit: too linear reductions (10% for example per annum) of customs duties and quantitative restrictions on traded products, to the establishment of a list of industries to be approved and whose products would be guaranteed free movement and franchising on the Maghreb market, the creation of a Maghreb integration bank to finance projects of common interest and promote this simultaneous and equitable industrialisation, the possible establishment of a union of payments and finally the harmonisation of their trade policies with regard to third countries in order not to jeopardize later the establishment of a standard external tariff system.

The set of principal axes highlighted previously, were taken up at the Maghreb Summit, which was held in Zéralda (Algeria) in 1988 and the second Maghreb Summit held on 19 February 1989 in Marrakech, saw the adoption of the Treaty of the U. M. A. which defines the modalities of a Maghreb construction and its development strategy. Various sectoral committees have worked very cyclically to try to establish a free trade area gradually, assuming the free movement of products between the partners — a customs union and therefore new common management instruments such as the unification of tariffs and the elaboration of unified policies, aiming at defining the standard rules to enable the implementation of a regulatory system economic development in the region. The objective to be achieved at these summits as a last resort was to establish a common market and a progressive and comprehensive economic unit, a prelude to the best complementarity between the five countries in the region. The declaration of the Heads of State on the establishment of the AMU, adopted at the Marrakech summit, marks for its part the will of the member countries to translate into reality the dream of the Maghreb’s generations to build a viable union. It can be seen in their declaration that it should be perceived as “a complementary community that cooperates with similar regional institutions, a community that participates in the enrichment of dialogue and putting its potential at the service of strengthening the independence of the States parties of the Union and safeguarding their achievements, working with the international community to establish a world order in which justice, dignity, freedom, human rights and where relations are imbued with sincere cooperation and mutual respect.

Professor of universities and international expert, Dr. Abderrahmane Mebtoul, ademmebtoul@gmail.com