Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan signed Friday an agreement to form a “Levant Quartet” to develop stronger economic and cultural integration in what officials are hailing as an “EU of the Middle East.”
“The quartet will bring four seas together and be the base of a union, similar to the European Union, in the future,” a Syrian Transportation Minister Yaraub Badr told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
The signing took place during the International Cooperation Platform, or ICP, that is continuing in Istanbul.
“Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad aim to bring the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea and Basra together by forming the quartet,” Badr said.
Badr said the agreement would bring together all the countries of the Arab Peninsula and Egypt as members in the near future by taking the region’s economic integration to a higher level.
“This is not just a simple agreement, but a step taken toward a union in the Middle East,” he said.
“As we all know, everything started with economic cooperation in Europe,” he said, adding that Middle Eastern countries have a great potential to achieve the same.
In the official documents prepared by the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey, or DEİK, on the Levant Quartet, the agreement has a projection map including Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Oman and Bahrain as full members of the Levant Quartet by 2015. Israel has not been included in the plans.
“The leaders of these countries have already given signs of their will to become full members of the Levant in the future,” he said.
According to projections, the eventual members of the Levant will have a population of 270 million and represent a trade volume of nearly $1 trillion.
Common market and monetary union
In a meeting last month, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon were preparing to launch a visa-free zone and formally create a free-trade zone between the four countries.
“The regional economic integration model will include steps toward a free-trade zone, customs union, common market, common monetary union and economic union in the future,” Badr said.
Noting that the four countries signing the agreement have a total gross domestic product of $724 billion, Badr said success was assured for the project. “We have all the energy sources in the Middle East and the production facilities and know-how in Turkey.”
‘No evil axis’
Speaking at the signing ceremony, Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu, head of Turkey’s Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges, said, “There is no evil axis in this region.”
He added that 20 years of conflict in the region had resulted in nearly $12 trillion in economic damages.
“The ones who stay out of the phase with the new conditions of the economy are bound to stay behind developed nations,” said President Abdullah Gül, speaking at the meeting.
He also said security-oriented inter-regional competition should leave its place to stability and growth-oriented regional cooperation in Middle East.
The Levant agreement has three main pillars – political, economic, and cultural integration – and addresses cooperation in mobility of goods and people, communications and logistics, entrepreneurship, financial activities, inter-regional investment activities, food security, energy security, tourism, infrastructure projects and project financing, cooperation in third countries, education and research and development, according to officials.
“The Turkish and Arab world has the world’s most important strategic zone, from Kars to Morocco and Mauritania, from Sinop to the southeast part of Sudan to the equator, from the Bosphorus to the Gulf of Aden and the Dardanelles. We want turn this into a zone of economic integration and a grand area of welfare,” Davutoğlu told the Fifth Turkish-Arab Economic Forum in Istanbul in June.
The ICP will continue until Sunday at the Swissotel the Bosphorus in Istanbul. Among those present are private-sector representatives, political leaders, academics and journalists from Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Source : Hurriyet