The strong hold of the virus on our movement and on the economy gave us food for thought. The global fight against Covid-19 has highlighted the limits of the international community’s ability to coordinate a global response to some of the other crises and challenges our world faces today.

Previously defended supply chains were unable to adapt to the restrictions. The reliance on distant production sources has made us vulnerable to shortages and ill-equipped to respond accordingly. The circular migration on which some industries thrive, but has stopped.

the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) has long vouched for the need to strengthen regional cooperation and integration in the Mediterranean, as indicated in the roadmap for UfM action, adopted in 2017.

This is why the publication of the first progress report on Euro-Mediterranean regional integration is so timely.

Commissioned by the UfM and prepared by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the report focuses on five areas of regional integration – trade, finance, infrastructure, movement of people, and research and higher education – presenting key findings, clear indicators to monitor future progress, and policy recommendations for each of them. these areas.

Critically, he is motivated by data that allows us to draw striking conclusions. The good news is that integration has progressed in the region.

Slow and under potential

Dig a little deeper, however, and the truth is that progress has been slow and still falls short of their potential in terms of capacity and resources.

Uneven integration between and within sub-regions partly explains this.

The European Union is still responsible for over 95 percent of the region’s domestic merchandise exports and 93 percent of foreign merchandise exports.

The majority of financial exchanges in the region involve at least one EU Member State, and most scientific cooperation in the region is characterized by North-South interactions, although there are South-South exceptions.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, trade agreements within the Euro-Mediterranean region were perhaps too narrow in scope and lacked the conviction that now drives our ambitions for the sustainable development of our communities.

No services?

They mainly focused on reducing existing tariffs in trade in manufactured goods, without covering trade in services. This is a missed opportunity, as trade in services now accounts for 25 percent of global trade flows.

Two other important challenges for regional integration are the inadequacy of transport infrastructure and energy connectivity, as well as the lack of a common vision of human mobility as a driver of innovation and growth in the region. region.

Solar energy farms

Indeed, the World Bank estimated in 2020 that over the next five to ten years, the Middle East / North Africa region will require an investment of more than seven percent of its annual GDP in the maintenance and creation of infrastructure; while the region’s concentrated solar power plants could generate 100 times the combined electricity consumption of MENA and Europe together.

Although progress has been made in facilitating human mobility in the region, further cooperation, such as easing visa requirements, could allow countries to take full advantage of the potential of different forms of mobility, such as as tourism, student and researcher exchanges.

In addition to these priorities, we must not lose sight of the importance of digitization and the opportunities it opens up for regional cooperation.

Digital transformation is changing global production, trade and foreign investment, and offers more ways to collaborate and participate virtually in science and education.

It can be used to reduce the cost of remittances – a significant share of GDP in many southern and eastern Mediterranean economies – as well as to improve e-commerce. In 2017, studies reported that only 8% of SMEs in the wider MENA region had an online presence and that only 1.5% of retailers in the region were online.

As we recover, we must take advantage of the opportunity to create new inclusive societies that ensure that young people and women can realize their potential as development agents and contributors to the region’s economy in its own right. together.

Regional integration is of common interest to all and to see meaningful change we need to start showing what we really mean by building back better.

As always, at the UfM, we believe that ever more committed cooperation is the only way forward.