AMU energy ministers rekindle regional co-operation efforts

Date: 07/07/2008

After 13 years of stagnancy, energy ministers from Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) member states met in Algiers on July 3rd to revitalise co-operation in the region. The ministers concluded the meeting with agreements to work jointly to produce renewable energy.

The energy ministers of Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia, as well as Mauritania's ambassador to Algeria, gathered at the eighth AMU ministerial council on energy and mining on Thursday. The officials reviewed global developments in the energy sector, including rising oil prices, and agreed on the need to focus on renewable energies.

The ministers admitted that there has been no regional co-operation in the energy sector, while pointing out that a number of bilateral projects in the fields of oil drilling and energy distribution have been successful. Algerian Minister of Energy and Mining Chakib Khelil said co-operation is dictated by "domestic and global political and economic conditions".

After 13 years of infighting and foot-dragging, the ministers broke new ground for the AMU by agreeing upon the need to bolster energy-related ties among AMU states and calling for the establishment of a regional Maghreb electricity market, open to competition.

Algeria and Morocco signed two agreements on the sidelines of the conference. The first provides for cross-border electricity trading in the case of an emergency in either state. The second agreement allows Algeria to export electricity to Spain via Morocco's grid.

The AMU energy ministers also agreed to co-operate in the field of renewable energy. The use of solar energy figured prominently in the talks. Tunisian Minister of Energy Afif Chelbi proposed the establishment of a working team to kick start solar projects in the region. All parties are said to have warmly welcomed the proposal.

The meeting recommended forming a working team to develop a plan for the development of nuclear power for peaceful use in the Maghreb.

Algeria's Khelil told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting that AMU experts will conduct technical and legal studies to identify the projects countries in the region could undertake in this domain.

Both Morocco and Tunisia showed substantial interest in this proposal. Moroccan Minister of Energy Amina Benkhadra emphasised that that developing nuclear power for peaceful purposes has become an indispensable necessity, and that AMU states must implement nuclear projects. Tunisia's Chelbi adopted a similar view, stressing that nuclear energy is the alternative to oil.

When asked about a potential timeline for the proposed projects, Khelil told reporters it would be difficult to set a definite agenda before experts wrap up preliminary studies at the end of the year.

AMU Secretary-General Habib Ben Yahia said that the ninth AMU ministerial council on energy would be held in Morocco next year, providing an opportunity to assess progress on the projects identified in Algiers.