Major step taken toward Mideast economic union
The first step towards the establishment of a free trade zone among Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon has been taken, Foreign Trade Minister Zafer Caglayan announced over the weekend. In a written statement, he said the foreign ministers of the four nations had decided during a meeting on June 10 to set up a "high-level quartet cooperation council" to strengthen the existing cooperation, develop long-term strategic partnership and solidarity, and further boost economic integration. They also decided to establish a zone among the four countries where there is free movement of products and people, reminiscent of the foundation of the European Union. In line with those goals, Caglayan hosted a meeting in Istanbul on Saturday, with the attendance of Syrian Economy and Trade Minister Lamia Assi, Jordanian Industry and Trade Minister Amir al-Hadidi, and Lebanese Economy and Trade Minister Mohammad Safadi. The participants decided to establish the Close Neighbors Economic and Trade Partnership Council (CNETAC). Caglayan said in the statement that the four countries discussed ways to achieve the target of economic integration. "We have agreed to hold a CNETAC ministerial meeting in the Syrian capital of Damascus in December," said the statement. "We also decided to establish a committee made up of the authorized representatives of the relevant countries to sketch a roadmap and determine priorities regarding areas of cooperation. This committee will have its first meeting in September in Amman. With this close cooperation, our goal is to increase and diversify trade and investments among the four countries by creating a liberal trade and investment environment with a modern infrastructure at the international level, free from all tariff and non-tariff barriers, encompassing a geography feeding a population of 105 million and, as of 2009, having a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of $723 billion, imports amounting to $176 billion, and exports to $131 billion."