More than twenty prominent economic and political experts joined the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East on November 29, 2012 to discuss prospects for North Africa (Maghreb) economic integration. The Maghreb region holds the distinction of having the lowest intra-regional trade in the world. And though integration holds enormous benefits for North African countries—as a recent World Bank study on trade and infrastructure demonstrates—the political obstacles have long proven insurmountable. Given the region’s new political landscape, however, might it now be the proper time to pursue meaningful economic integration? If so, what should be the driving factor, economics or politics?
Hariri Center Senior Fellow Mohsin Khan moderated a discussion among participants regarding the challenges and prospects for further integration. Jonathan Walters of the World Bank and Gary Hufbauer of the Peterson Institute for International Economics laid out the economic arguments for integration, and John Entelis of Fordham University highlighted the political challenges and opportunities moving forward. The experts offered varying assessments on the prospects for Maghreb economic integration.
Despite ongoing political challenges, participants were optimistic that some level of integration– if not enhanced regional cooperation– could be driven by the regional business community. As several participants noted, the complementary nature of the countries’ individual economies suggest that increased trade would benefit all parties involved. The border dispute between Algeria and Morocco may stand as the largest political roadblock, but this alone need not thwart integration among other North African countries. Moreover, as governments in the region become more accountable to their constituents, they will find that integration is critical to providing the job growth needed to keep them in power.