CAIRO: Leading government and business officials from the Mediterranean region gathered in Alexandria Thursday to discuss progress on international development and investment projects around the Mediterranean.
The meeting was hosted at the Library of Alexandria by Minister of Trade and Industry Rachid Mohamed Rachid. The event was under the auspices of the Union for the Mediterranean, which French President Nicolas Sarkozy helped create last summer.
The Union for the Mediterranean now boasts 34 members.
Participants gathered in Alexandria specifically to discuss infrastructure project finance. But each speaker emphasized that the meeting was also aimed at bridging the gap between the north and south Mediterranean regions.
Henri Guaino, Special Advisor to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said that the north and south Mediterranean regions historically had “a dialogue not based on equality. Meetings like this one, he said, stood to change that imbalance.
Union for the Mediterranean officials began the meeting with a presentation, in which they detailed certain areas ripe for investment. These areas included land and maritime highways, de-pollution of the Mediterranean, energy efficiency, higher education and research, and business development planning.
To date the group had pledged ?8 billion in transportation projects.
At the second half of the daylong meeting, officials launched an InfraMed Fund, aimed at promoting economic integration between member nations through infrastructure projects.
“The InfraMed Fund . offers a new model of cooperation between north and south that underscores the importance of the private sector’s contribution together with the public sector, to achieve cooperation and integration among the two shores of the Mediterranean Sea, said Rachid.
Despite the Union for the Mediterranean’s promising start and high profile endeavors, it has yet to make substantial progress in economic integration.
The European Union’s (EU) trade with the south Mediterranean only totals 5 percent of its total global trade. NAFTA, by contrast, accounts for 20 percent of the EU’s trade, Rachid said.
The EU has ?17 billion in direct investment into south Mediterranean countries. This number is dwarfed by its ?72 billion of investment into the United States.
Guiano, who is one of the officials charged with developing the Union for the Mediterranean, discussed plans to create governing institutions for the Union.
Next year, he said, a new six-state governing council will take over the union. Palestinian Authority delegates will represent the Arab world.
This group, he said, would be able to weigh investment proposals against criteria aimed at fostering economic integration and development. Approved projects would stand to receive funding from the Mediterranean Union.
Guiano also said that the Union was working to institute a court that would oversee arbitrations in trade disputes between parties within the Union.
One of the main aims of the Union, and of the Alexandria meeting, was not only to promote investment, but to create sustainable growth. As such, by focusing on infrastructure projects, the body was able to encourage projects with broad aims and long timeframes.
The Union for the Mediterranean was controversial when it was created last summer because some EU members said the group would diminish the EU’s standing. This hasn’t been the case so far, but government officials in Alexandria on Thursday were full steam ahead on plans that might have just such an effect.