“Reforms should come from within the countries of the region themselves”
By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 12/14/2004 | 3:11 pm
Morocco and Jordan have sound diplomatic relations, but bilateral trade is not very well developed and needs to be improved. Dr. Nabil Charif, Jordan's Ambassador to Morocco, suggest ways to improve trade relations between the two sister countries. Regarding reforms in the BMENA, Dr. Charif said he supports initiatives for reforms that come from within the region. At the same time, he thinks that internal reform needs financial support from foreign countries, especially from the G8, which are considered essential partners in the Forum for the Future, held in Rabat Dec. 11.
Foreign Ministers of Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia and Egypt recently signed the Agadir Agreement, which aims at creating a Free Trade Zone between the four southern Mediterranean countries. How do you see perspectives of cooperation between these countries?
This agreement will create an integrated market of more than 100 million people in the four countries involved. Nevertheless, it is just the beginning of a much larger common market of all of North Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
This will open Arab markets between the four countries and reinforce trade relations. The Agadir agreement will help increase the marketing of Arab products instead of competing with each other. It will be an occasion for the Arab states to produce different products, because most of them are similar. By differentiating these products, the Arab states could get into international markets with good quality products.
How would you describe Moroccan-Jordanian relations and how can you benefit from the Agadir agreement?
This is a very important question. Jordan and Morocco are similar in different fields. First of all, they are both kingdoms and they have leaders who are descendents of the Prophet. Their political, social and economic orientations are also similar. Morocco and Jordan have sound diplomatic relations, but bilateral trade is not very well developed.
How can you improve Moroccan and Jordanian trade relations?
We have canceled visa requirements for Moroccans who would like to visit Jordan. We hope that this initiative will help reinforce cultural and economic relations and increase the number of tourists between the two countries.
As far as trade is concerned, we can share our experiences with Moroccans especially in terms of FTA's. As you know, we had signed an FTA with the US years ago, before Morocco. So we can share our knowledge and expertise in the US markets with our Moroccan counterparts. Meanwhile, they could share with us their experiences in the European market, mainly the French one.
A Moroccan delegation of entrepreneurs will visit Jordan next month to discuss ways of improving bilateral trade between the two countries.
There are several Jordanian products that Morocco could benefit from, including Dead Sea products which do not exist in Morocco. Morocco could also benefit from Jordan's medical industry, and light aircraft manufacturing which can be used in pesticide spraying and border patrols.
To improve bilateral trade, we should build a regular sea link between Casablanca and Akaba ports, reinforce cooperation between the Moroccan and Jordanian Chambers of Commerce, and facilitate Jordanians' entry to Morocco by removing visa requirements for Jordanians wanting to come to Morocco.
How do you see the Forum for the Future, and what do you think about the US plan for the Greater Middle-East initiative?
We support initiatives of reforms that come from within the region. At the same time, we think that internal reform needs financial support from foreign countries, especially from the G8, which are considered essential partners in the Forum for the Future. When I said that reforms should come from inside, I did not mean that this is an individualist approach.
However, as Arabs, we are in crying need of reforms. I believe that initiatives recently taken by Arab states are very important. We have shared reform efforts in the Arab League Summit in Tunis, which confirms that reforms are coming from Arab countries. At this point, I believe that the Forum for the Future is a valuable and important opportunity, because it reinforces the spirit of partnership between the G8 and the Arab and Islamic states.
This Forum will be the foundation of this partnership, a “dynamic process based on mutual respect,” and a collaborative vehicle for expanding and deepening engagement in support of the reform efforts to achieve sustainable development led by the governments and peoples of the region.
As you know, many countries refused to host the Forum for the Future, except Morocco. It is only last week that several human rights activists and actors of the civil society organized a march in protest against the organization of this Forum in Morocco. How do you see this?
First of all, I don't think that many countries refused to host this Forum. Morocco was the first to take the initiative. We are very grateful to the Kingdom of Morocco for hosting the Forum and for its role and efforts in supporting reforms and promoting tolerance, mutual understanding, peace and stability in the region. This stand is not a novelty for our sister country. Morocco, like Jordan, was among the pioneering countries that have established greater reforms.
As far as the position of the anti-Forum activists is concerned, I think these demonstrations are very normal and understandable because it happens everywhere in the world. I believe that giving everybody the right to express his or her views is one of the major aspects of reform. The Forum's objective is to allow different points of view in the Arab world to be freely expressed. We have to respect all attitudes towards the Forum, whether they are for or against it.
What do you expect from this Forum?
We are expecting two things. First, the reinforcement of reforms in the Arab world, which were already shared during the Arab League Summit in Tunis. Second, the strengthening of the G8 Partners' commitment to support development and reform in the Arab world.
It has, in fact, been said that this Forum will only serve the interests of the G8 countries but not those of the Arab world. How do you react to this?
I don't think this is true. The first to benefit from this Forum are the participating Arab and Islamic states, because this is their initiative “par excellence”. On the other hand, when talking about reforms, we need to train young new staff to fully understand the meaning and the importance of sustainable development.
We hope the G8 will support staff training, and this will benefit Arab states. However, I stress that the G8 are not just interested in helping the Arab countries, but will in turn profit from an open and inclusive dialogue, devoted to strengthening democracy and the participation of civil society, to developing training skills, and to encouraging the growth of modern economies that generate wealth.
What was Jordan's project for the Forum for the Future?
The participants accepted Jordan's proposal to hold a ministerial meeting for the Forum on educational reform in May 2005.
Jordan also gave a presentation of its micro-finance experience and welcomed the creation. of a regional micro-finance centre in the kingdom.
Jordan showed its interest in vocational training and many countries, especially Japan, expressed desire to cooperate with Jordan in this field.
Jordan has a geopolitical and geo-strategic position next to Palestine and Israel: how do you see the future of the Middle East after the Forum for the Future?
It is certain that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Iraq will affect reform efforts. We need a solution to these conflicts. As far as Palestine is concerned, we support free and transparent elections in the Palestinian Territories. Israel should work towards fulfilling its commitment to facilitate the holding of such elections.
Our support for reform in the region will go hand in hand with our support for a just, comprehensive, and lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict, based upon UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. There should be a full implementation of the Road Map and the goal of two states, living side by side in peace and security, achieved through direct negotiations between the two sides.
How will Jordan deal with the issue of refugees during the leadership of the new Palestinian government?
The issue of refugees is regulated by the International laws (the Security Council resolutions, and the General Assembly). So solving this issue should be within the framework of international legality and norms, a solution that is accepted by the Palestinian refugees themselves.
Biography of HE Dr. Nabil Charif, Jordan's Ambassador to Morocco
Jordan's Ambassador to Morocco Dr. Nabil Charif was Jordan's former minister of communication. He was editor-in-chief of Jordan's oldest Arabic daily newspaper “Adustour”. He participated in a number of international conferences as a representative of the Arab press. He was also the only Arab board member of the Paris-based “World Editors Forum”. Dr Charif is also a regular columnist in Arabic and English and author of several books in media studies and literature, and hist of Jordanian TV program “Face to Face”.