Eight months after the landmark speech of King Mohammed VI at the African Union Summit in which he deplored that the “flame of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) has faded because faith in a common interest has vanished,” the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) came to the same conclusion ringing the alarm bell as to the untenable deadlock in Maghreb integration.
The ECA said in a report presented before the 32nd Intergovernmental Committee of Experts (ICE) in Rabat that the quest of Maghreban countries to join successful regional economic communities in Africa such as the ECOWAS will further undermine the Maghreb Union leading to its eventual demise.
The UNECA noted that Maghreban countries are all seeking alternatives to the Maghreb Union. Even Algeria, the least enthusiastic about Free Trade Agreements and economic integration is oddly seeking membership of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), which also includes Libya, Egypt and Sudan.
Morocco and Tunisia for their parts are forging ahead with their application to join the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). They will respectively become the 16th and 17th member of the regional economic grouping in December during the ECOWAS Summit in Lome, Togo. This membership will put a final nail in the Maghreb Union.
Tunisia has also expressed its willingness to join the Common market for eastern and southern Africa (COMESA), in a move that further indicates deep frustration with the state of immobility affecting the Maghreb Union.
Indeed, the paralysis plaguing AMU actually stands in stark contrast to the dynamism characterizing other sub-regional groupings such as the ECOWAS or the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
More than 27 years after its creation in 1989, the north African regional grouping failed to achieve its main goals: a customs union, which was due to be launched in 1995 and an economic market by 2000. The fact that the last summit of the five countries’ heads of state took place in 1994 is indicative of the stalemate in regional cooperation.
As the least integrated region in Africa if not in the whole world, AMU has de facto become a cherished dream that never saw the light of the day.
The state of trade between the five AMU countries, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania, does not exceed 3% of total Maghreb trade. It is one of the lowest in Africa if not in the whole world.
In comparison, intra-regional trade between ECOWAS countries reached 10% and 19% for SADC countries.
The lack of regional economic integration in the Maghreb costs 2.5 points of GDP growth for each of the five states, which deprives the region of 220,000 job opportunities annually.
In light of the lack of willingness to reinvigorate AMU along the lines of its founding Marrakesh Treaty, the Maghreb Union will remain one of the worst performing trading blocks in the world pushing its member states to seek alternatives elsewhere.