Arab world annual food bill $36 billion
The Arab world owns the largest reserves of oil, natural gas, phosphate, sulphur and potash and yet, Arab countries are unable to provide sufficient and qualitative food to their inhabitants, lamented food experts on Monday.
Not only that, out of the eight million new births annually in the Arab nation, one million deaths are recorded among children below one year of age due to malnutrition, noted Arab Federation for Food Industries (AFFI) Secretary General Falah Jabr.
Addressing Arab and foreign food experts, industrialists and officials attending Foodex 2001, Jabr said he despaired that calls are raised to enhance investments in the Arab region while Arab investments abroad reach $800 million.
“Although the Arab world consumes nine percent of the total world food trade and pays an annual $36 billion bill for its imported food needs, including industrial inputs, and exports $8 billion worth of goods, one-third of the Arab population cannot afford their daily bread.
He also warned that at a time when food consumption increases in the Arab region by six percent annually, production increases by only two percent. “We will undergo economic and technical shocks due to mergers among international production and services giants in the globalization era, characterized by the dominance of overseas firms which own 40 percent of the international economic capabilities,” he told the opening ceremony.
“This reality necessitates an integrated food strategy among Arab states, setting up economic blocs whereby products integrate rather than compete,” suggested the speaker. “The small size of the Arab market — three percent of world market — is due to lack of Arab economic integration,” said Mutasem Suleiman, deputizing for Arab League Secretary General Ismat Abdul Maguid. “Arabs will not have negotiating power on the international economic scene without setting up regional blocs which is a world trend nowadays,” he warned.
But speakers pinned hope on the Arab Free Trade Area (AFTA) as the first step towards the aspired integration. “When the (AFTA) is completed, this percentage is expected to be doubled,” added Suleiman.
The area, to be launched by 2007, envisions a regional free trade zone through lowering customs tariffs by 10 per cent annually. Currently the customs tariffs applicable in the AFTA are reduced by 40 percent.
Mohammad Halaiqa, Jordan's deputy prime minister and minister of economic affairs, said he hoped the conference will come up with specific recommendations to be presented to the Arab Summit to be held here in late March.
The four-day conference, which kicked off on Monday, will discuss several studies and research on the Arab food industry, developments, challenges, and future prospects.
A food exhibition, 'Foodex 2001,' featuring more than 30 exhibitors with products from 13 countries including France, Luxembourg, Tunisia, Lebanon and Iraq is being held on the sidelines of the meeting.
The event, taking place at Zara Expo Amman, is organized with the support of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the AFFI and Zara Expo Amman. — ( Jordan Times )
By Rana Awwad
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)