By Arab News
By Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg
As the GCC heads of state gather in Riyadh on Monday for their annual summit, it is worthwhile looking into the promise of this council when it was established in 1981.
One main objective stipulated in its charter was economic integration. That goal was dismissed by foreign observers at the time as wishful thinking or a “pipe dream,” as one American expert cynically put it.
Has this goal been achieved, at least partially? I will address one key promise declared exactly 10 years ago: a GCC Common Market. It was announced as a goal in December 2001 and came into effect in January 2008, after six years of preparation (and tough negotiations).
The GCC Common Market was based on a simple but powerful principle: GCC nationals should be treated the same when engaging in any economic activity, anywhere in the six member states. This principle was subsequently fleshed out in detailed GCC legislation and then enabled through national legislation in member states. Although largely modeled after the EU example, the GCC Common Market is almost 100 percent native product in its planning and implementation.
Did it work? Let us take the United Arab Emirates as an example. Based on figures published recently by the UAE Ministry of Finance, the number of GCC investors in the UAE has doubled since the launch of the Common Market. So has the number of GCC nationals owning property. The number of GCC nationals employed in the UAE increased by nearly 50 percent during the same period. Despite the turbulence in stock markets all over the world, there are close to 300,000 GCC nationals investing in UAE stock markets, and rising. Similarly, the numbers of GCC students going to school in the UAE and tourists are rising rapidly.
Thus the real work has been undertaken by GCC nationals, who have taken advantage of the opportunities the GCC Common Market offers. They have voted for GCC integration with their feet, airline miles, and checkbooks. These enterprising souls are the pioneers of GCC integration and they are reaping the benefits.
Given these significant strides in bringing the Common Market idea into reality, it is surprising how little this fact is known outside the region, even by area specialists. At two international conferences organized recently in Abu Dhabi and Doha, I was surprised that foreign participants seemed almost stunned by this news. Was that ignorance due to inadequate GCC media outreach? Or was it due to incredulity because outsiders got used to hyperbolic promises by other organizations and dismissed them as wishful thinking? Or is it something else altogether?