Arab economy and finance ministers met for talks in Damascus Wednesday on moving up the timetable for an Arab free-trade zone by several years, participants said.
Syrian Deputy Economy Minister Shibli Abu Fakhr said "Syria and other Arab countries want to totally liberalize the trade of products starting in 2003," or four years earlier than they had originally planned.
"Syria and other Arab countries are trying to shorten the period for progressively reducing customs duties" on Arab goods, which began in 1998, he added in remarks published in the government newspaper Tishrin Tuesday.
Sources say trade between Arab countries comes to no more than 10 percent of their foreign trade.
Nevertheless, Arab economy ministers agreed in 1997 to set up an Arab free-trade zone in 10 years.
In his opening speech at the Arab League Economic and Social Council meeting, Syrian Prime Minister Mustafa Miro said Wednesday that the most important topics on the agenda were the free-trade zone, developing inter-Arab commerce, liberalizing trade in services and an Arab customs union.
Miro said that Syria is "facing the future with a new spirit" and undertaking economic and legislative reforms to free the public sector from the administrative and financial barriers that are hindering its development.
Economy ministers or other officials from Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates are participating in the two-day meeting.
This is the first time the council has met outside of Cairo, where the Arab League has its headquarters -- DAMASCUS (AFP)
Arab economic and finance ministers met to discuss starting an Arab free-trade zone by 2003 four years ahead of schedule.
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