Arab Spring challenges 'must be tackled at economic conference'
A two-day Arab economic summit that opens in Riyadh on Jan. 21 must break with tradition and tackle people’s aspirations in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings, Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said on Saturday.
“Our meeting should not be mired in routine,” Prince Saud said while presiding over a meeting to prepare for the third Arab Economic and Social Development Summit.
Prince Saud also said that Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah will unveil a specific strategy for regional growth at the third Arab Economic and Social Development Summit in Riyadh tomorrow.
The minister stressed that the summit must tackle “the problems and issues that concern the lives of our people. We must meet the aspirations of the people.” A recent economic report noted that unemployment in 2011 stood at 16 percent in Arab countries where 17 million people out of 300 million are jobless. At the same time inter-Arab investments stood at a mere $ 25 billion across the region.
The summit is expected to discuss the amendment of an Arab convention on investments in a bid to bolster the role of the private sector, the minister said.
The meeting would also examine means of drawing up new financial resources to support impoverished Arab states, he added.
Tomorrow's summit will follow up on decisions adopted at the previous two summits, in Kuwait in 2009 and Sharm El-Sheikh in 2011.
Prince Saud took over as chairperson of the summit from Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamil Amr at the meeting attended by finance and foreign ministers of 21 Arab states. Amr delivered the opening speech before handing over the position to the host country.
Secretary-General of the Arab League Nabil El-Araby also spoke at the opening session of the preparatory meeting which was followed by a closed-door discussion.
Prince Saud said the Arab region has the optimal geographic, climatic and economic factors for the development of a local and sustainable industry in the field of renewable energy.
He said that the exploitation of available renewable energy resources can be undertaken after the transfer of technology to Arab countries. This is a strategic option for the Arab region. Such measures would ensure the provision and diversification of energy sources to attract local and global customers.
“The Arab strategy for the development of renewable energy which will be proposed at the Monday summit promises a new horizon for the Arab world, to meet the aspirations of its citizens." The prince pointed out that the strategy includes plans to involve the private sector more effectively in investment in renewable energy projects and to propose appropriate sources of funding that contribute to building an Arab market.
He pointed out that noncommunicable diseases — cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases — form a significant burden on the economies and health systems in Arab countries.
Prince Saud pointed out that the World Health Organization (WHO) statistics for 2010 showed that deaths from noncommunicable diseases in Arab countries were between 27 percent and 84 percent of total deaths.
The draft resolution of the Riyadh Declaration, issued by the international conference for healthy lifestyles and noncommunicable diseases in the Arab world, was tabled yesterday by the minister for discussion.
The draft recommended a technical secretariat of the Council of Arab Ministers of Health to follow up on the implementation of the recommendations of the declaration.
Prince Saud added that it was important to involve government and nongovernmental institutions and academic institutions in national efforts to curb the spread of noncommunicable diseases in the Arab world and to reduce the hazards leading to these diseases.
He said the meeting must address the "most important topics and key issues that touch the lives of our peoples." “The Arab world has witnessed a number of changes and challenges over the past two years. Although they have taken apparent political forms, we should not overlook their real causes. We cannot ignore developmental aspects or aspirations.” He also stressed the need for joint Arab action for a Greater Arab Free Trade Zone and setting up of the Customs Union by 2015.
Prince Saud pointed out that the Arab world was blessed with natural, human and financial resources, and was a strategic location that can attract foreign investments and build inter-Arab trade.
He also called on the summit to adopt an amended unified agreement for pan-Arab investment, to strengthen the role of the private sector as a key partner in Arab economic and social development.
He also stressed the need to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and focus on additional resources to support the efforts of the least developed Arab countries.