Conclusion of the Conference on Trade Facilitation in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia [22/11/2005]

A conference on trade facilitation in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia was held in Algiers on November 21-22, 2005. The participants included the Ministers of Finance of Algeria and Morocco, the Ministers of Trade from the three countries, the Secretary of State for Fiscal Affairs at the Tunisian Ministry of Finance, as well as the Governors of the Central Banks of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. The Managing Director of the IMF participated in the conference. The conference was preceded by a two-day technical meeting of officials from the three countries and IMF staff.

The objective of the conference was to advance the dialogue on strengthening regional cooperation among the three countries, in particular, in the area of trade facilitation. Discussions focused on the main obstacles to trade in the region and possible actions that the three countries could take to facilitate trade among themselves and with the rest of the world.

Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia have made important strides toward economic prosperity in recent years. Stable macroeconomic conditions and a steady pace of economic reforms have led to a significant rise in per-capita incomes. In addition to ongoing reforms, a key factor behind these favorable developments has been the increasing openness of the region, in particular it's growing economic integration with the European Union in the context of the Association Agreements signed by the three countries.

While the three economies have already started to reap the benefits of policies that favor private initiative and investment, they still face a major challenge. All three countries need to speed up economic reform to increase growth with a view to reducing unemployment and raising living standards.

To this end, greater regional economic integration in the Maghreb could play a crucial role. It would create a regional market of more than 75 million consumers, similar in population size to many large trading economies. It would also bring efficiency gains and make the region more attractive for foreign investors. And, most importantly, the complementary economic structures of the Maghreb countries would create opportunities for mutually beneficial trade within the region. Conference participants agreed that seven major actions are important for greater regional economic integration and trade facilitation in these countries:

1. Harmonizing trade regulations: a working group will prepare a report on harmonizing trade regulations linked to the implementation of free trade agreements, in particular with regard to procedures and rules of origin, as well as non-tariff barriers and preferential treatment of goods from the Maghreb. This report will be reviewed in April 2006 at the time of the Spring Meetings of the IMF and World Bank with a view to reaching an agreement on specific measures.

2. Eliminating trade distortions: a working group will prepare a report on measures directed at eliminating trade distortions in order to reduce the volume of informal flows. This report will also be reviewed in April 2006 at the time of the Spring Meetings with a view to reaching an agreement on specific measures.

3. Pressing forward with tariff reforms: each country will also consider specific measures that can be undertaken to simplify and reduce tariffs. The next regional conference, which will take place in Morocco in November 2006, will review the progress made in this area.

4. Pressing forward with reform of customs: the customs administration will examine the measures needed for modernizing customs' administration in each country. The next regional conference will review the progress made in this area.

5. Streamlining document processing: a working group will consider and select measures that can be undertaken to improve the exchange and processing of documents. A report will be prepared and presented to the next regional conference.

6. Payments Systems and the financial sector: a working group will also examine the experience of Maghreb countries in the context of the unified bilateral payment agreement of the Maghreb Arab Union and will propose measures to be undertaken to improve the payments systems and the support for the financial sector. Progress will be reviewed at the time of the Spring Meetings and a report will prepared for presentation at the next regional conference.

7. Logistical chain, including transport infrastructure, and joint investments: the authorities will undertake a regional study (in conjunction, if needed, with the World Bank) on the logistical chain, including transportation, and joint investment in services related to trade.

Participants agreed upon a work program and a timetable to follow up on these seven themes. Working groups that include members from the three countries have been set up and will prepare progress reports and present these either at the time of the Spring Meetings or to the next regional conference. Participants agreed that the conference, the first of its kind, is to be followed every year by a regional conference on topics of interest to the countries. The next regional conference will deal with financial sector reform and integration and will be held in November 2006 in Morocco. A conference on private sector development will be held in Tunisia in November 2007. Libya and Mauritania will be invited to take part in this work and in the conferences.

Participants decided to put in place a monitoring unit ("observatoire") on Maghreb foreign trade, headed by a private sector representative.

Participants thanked the Algerian authorities for having hosted the conference.