The prospect of Yemen joining the Gulf Cooperation Council after the war comes to an end and the restoration of security and stability was the highlight of the Al Ittihad Forum held in Abu Dhabi last week. This involves two pertinent aspects — one that is related to emotion due to loyalty and historical ties, while the second is based on pragmatism and objectivity.
The second aspect is better able to address the issue and ensure its success.
It is well known that there are huge gaps in the economic and social aspects between the six GCC nations on the one side and Yemen on the other, not to mention the different nature of the political systems. However, this should not deviate attention from the rehabilitation of Yemen and later on work on its joining the GCC bloc through a gradual, yet necessary, process,
This is because Yemen joining now would not be beneficial to both Yemen and the GCC.
Taking the experience of the European Union (EU), a dialogue on membership of any European country takes a long time as there are 33 dossiers and each gets discussed one after the other. When a dossier is closed, they move on to the next one. The joining process cannot be completed except after closing all dossiers and ensuring the commitment of the prospective country to applying the economic, political and social aspects in full.
Raising living standards
In the case of Yemen, GCC rules and legislation differ completely from those of Yemen, where living standards vary greatly. This would then require raising living standards through development programmes involving GCC countries, given that Yemen offers high-potential development opportunities that are yet to be tapped and needs highly qualified economic management.
In addition to its oil resources, Yemen enjoys a strategic geographic location that allows for the development of trade, more so as Bab Al Mandab is the only access to the Suez Canal. In modern history, the port of Aden was one of the world’s most important hubs during the British colonial period. However, this importance has since declined significantly.
Also, Yemen has significant agricultural potential due to the availability of arable land and water resources and appropriate weather. It is also blessed with rich marine resources. However, all this needs GCC investments and for millions of jobs to be created. Besides that, the private sector, a major driver of economic growth, needs to be developed, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, which will bring Yemen much closer to the GCC’s living standards.
As a start, and directly after the war ends and security restored, a free-trade zone can be set up between the two sides, which will allow Yemen to export its goods and have duty-free access to the big and wealthy GCC markets. Also, Yemen will import duty-free goods from the GCC, leading to the development of trade between the two sides and strengthening the Yemeni economy, which would be an important step towards qualifying Yemen to join the GCC.
In a later phase, it can sign up for the GCC Customs Union, which will constitute a qualitative leap on the road towards full membership. By doing so, Yemen will be integrated into the Gulf Common Market, another key components to becoming a member.
This can be followed by amending regulations to conform to the GCC legislation. With such a progressive and practical programme, and setting aside emotional and ephemeral desires, the process of rehabilitation will be successful.
What applies to Yemen can include Iraq. Regardless of the temporary Iranian hegemony at present, Iraq will get back to its natural Arab moorings as Iraq is a key component of the pan Arab nation. It cannot be otherwise.
The Al Ittihad Forum was thus an occasion to discuss one of the most important issues the region is facing. The outcome of the Yemen issue will define the outline of its influence in the next phase.
By Dr. Mohammad Al Asoomi
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