The General Secretariat of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab Thought Foundation recently organised a workshop on “The GCC: Achievements and Challenges”. Speaking at the workshop, held against the backdrop of shifting geopolitical and economic developments, Dr Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani, Secretary-General of the GCC, referred to a historic meeting the Late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan had with some students from the Gulf in 1972, during which he delivered a fateful message saying “You have only yourselves to support each other.”
Besides addressing geopolitical realities, the workshop’s discussions focused on economic developments as there have been many noticeable advancements in this regard. These reflect positively on all Gulf economies in spite of the challenges facing their continued cooperation, including completing the common market preparations. The implementation of some provisions have proved the effectiveness of a pan-Gulf vision.
The GCC electricity network, for example, was an important step. It saves up to $350 million (Dh1.2 billion) annually from the outages that used to occur repeatedly in some states, and leading to the economic sector incurring huge losses. These are no longer taking place thanks to the joint provisioning.
The workshop highlighted the need to speed up the building of a Gulf-wide infrastructure as it will play a pivotal role in development. The Gulf rail network is one of the projects that some members need to work on it. The UAE and Saudi Arabia, for instance, have made significant progress while others are lagging, which might cause a delay to the completion date scheduled for 2018.
The other Gulf countries should be encouraged to speed up implementation and taking advantage of the short distances between member-states.
Another important project relates to the water network and should feature prominently in the collective progress. Studies conducted by prestigious institutions — including Abu Dhabi-based New York University, Qatar University and US-based Arizona university — have warned against increasing the salinity of the Arabian Gulf, which is already higher by 25 per cent than other seas and which would render it impossible to desalinate by 2030.
Although this issue is not crucial for the UAE and Oman as they overlook the Indian Ocean as well as for Saudi Arabia as it also overlooks the Red Sea, it really poses a pressing problem for the rest, making it necessary to establish a Gulf-wide water network, as in the case for electricity generation and distribution.
Meanwhile, the establishment of a gas network is a priority due to the GCC’s development and economic diversity. Some countries such as Oman are seeking to meet their needs from external resources and that could be associated with certain uneconomic commitments. The Gulf countries, as a whole, can be self-sufficient. The gas network will contribute effectively to advancing development, linking economic interests and enhancing the GCC integration.
As the six states adopt futuristic development visions, the general secretariat has taken a significant step to coordinate and complete these efforts, in line with the quest to found a common market through which the combined economies can be one of the largest in the world by the next decade.
In fact, this will be a landmark achievement through which Gulf countries can enjoy geopolitical clout, help them maintain economic achievements and strengthen their security and stability.
Dr Mohammad Al Asoomi is a UAE economic expert and specialist in economic and social development in the UAE and the GCC countries.