Can preferential trade help the Middle East?

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Marcus Noland says that the Middle East is a “demographic time-bomb” due to add 150 million people over the next decade or so. It needs faster job growth to keep up and prevent an “employment crisis” (pdf). Unfortunately, US trade policy is doing little to help:

The third component could be preferential trade agreements… [but] the way that the United States has been negotiating these agreements is effectively creating a “hub-and-spoke” system in which individual Arab governments have strong bilateral agreements with the United States but weak or nonexistent agreements among themselves. In part this reflects differences in both capacity and orientation across the Arab governments, and in the specific cases of the militarily vulnerable Gulf oil exporters, a particular interest in deepening ties with a strategic partner. If it were just an issue of variable speed geometry to borrow a European phrase, that would be one thing. The bilateral agreements themselves contain mutual inconsistencies, however, which make incorporating them into a single region-wide accord difficult. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the rules in the agreements the United States and the European Union reach with the Arab countries are inconsistent. It would be desirable to increase the internal consistency of these arrangements to facilitate integrating them in the future.

For more thoughts on this subject, see Against MEFTA.

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