Jeddah (UNA-OIC) – The International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC) launched on Wednesday the second phase of the Aid for Trade Initiative for Arab States (AfTIAS 2.0) Program at the headquarters of the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) Group in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The main objective of AfTIAS 2.0, whose implementation will span over five years, is to improve international trade environment in the Arab region and make it more efficient and inclusive, create job opportunities, and contribute to sustainable development in the region.
The Program also aims to facilitate access to foreign markets, remove restrictions on the supply of goods and services, and enhance trade inclusion of women, youth and disadvantaged groups, who have recently suffered the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The kick-off ceremony featured the signing of grant agreements with the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and the Arab Organization for Agricultural Development (AOAD), through which each of them donated $1 million to the Program. The agreements were signed by Eng. Hani Salem Sonbol, Chief Executive Officer of the ITFC and Chairman of AfTIAS Board, and Prof. Ibrahim El Dukheri, AOAD Director General, and Mr. Mohammed Lamine Ould Dahbi, on behalf of Mauritania, respectively.
On this occasion, Eng. Hani Salem Sonbol expressed the gratitude of the IsDB Group for the support that this initiative has received from the Arab leaders, reflected in the resolution adopted at the 4th Arab Economic Summit, held in Beirut in January 2019, which invited the ITFC to prepare and launch the second phase of the AfTIAS Program, in cooperation with the League of Arab States and its member States.
Sonbol also expressed his sincere thanks and appreciation to the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, for his personal support to the IsDB Group for the implementation of this resolution and for ensuring the appropriate conditions for a successful launch of AfTIAS 2.0. He thanked as well the donors that responded to the Arab Summit resolution and provided financial support to AfTIAS 2.0, which include Mauritania, the AOAD, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, the Trade Development Fund, the IsDB and the ITFC.
In the second phase of the AfTIAS Program, Arab countries look forward to projects that help them achieve the following goals:
- Trade development and competitiveness: To address issues related to removing non-tariff barriers, promoting regional trade, fostering institutional innovation and increasing technical readiness for action in the region, as well as supporting access to trade finance;
- Support for inclusiveness: focus on lower-income groups, empower women, and increase youth participation in trade;
- Regional investment: Through the preparation of documentation for projects on tradeable infrastructure;
- South-South Cooperation (IsDB’s Reverse Linkage mechanism) with a view to supporting and strengthening the capacities of governmental bodies, non-governmental organizations, chambers of commerce and others.
- Research and survey: Supporting NGOs and providing the necessary information for the Program’s decision-making.
AfTIAS 2.0 will also provide a platform for economic recovery to address medium and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on trade in the Arab region, with a focus on unemployment issues, new trade barriers, difficulties in engaging in regional value chains, scarcity of investment financing, and trade digitization.
In a recorded statement, Dr. Muhammad Al Jasser, Chairman of IsDB Group, said: “The Islamic Development Bank Group views the AfTIAS 2.0 Program with great optimism and hope. With its new phase, the Program aspires to respond to the needs of Arab countries amid the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
In his address, ITFC CEO pointed out the importance of the initiative, saying: “Our meeting today is the culmination of more than two years of preparation, starting with the design of the AfTIAS 2.0 Program and its unanimous approval by all parties. He added, “Trade is the main engine for economic growth, promoting development and attracting investment, and is a vehicle for supporting and developing relations between countries. Therefore, through AfTIAS 2.0 we call for joint action plan to support Arab countries development goals and help them recover from the impact of the pandemic. This is possible through our partners within and outside the Arab region, whom we invite to join this important program.”
Dr. Kamal Hassan Ali, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Affairs of the League of Arab States, on behalf of H.E the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, said: “AfTIAS 2.0 is aligned with the main objective of the League of Arab States, which is to raise economic integration among Arab countries and improve income levels – reducing poverty and unemployment and making Arab economies more resilient to economic turmoil.” He also added that, “the second phase provides a new platform and a practical strategy to unlock the potential and resources that the region possesses and works to address the challenges imposed by the pandemic.”
It is noteworthy that the ITFC supervised the execution of the first phase of the AfTIAS program between 2013 and 2018, with the aim of supporting trade in the Arab region. During the first phase of this Program, 28 projects were implemented for the benefit of 19 Arab countries.
In early 2019, the IsDB Group responded to the request of H.E the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States to bring into effect the decision of the Arab Economic Summit held in Beirut in 2019, which called on ITFC on behalf of the IsDB Group to prepare and launch the second phase of the AfTIAS Program, in cooperation with the League of Arab States and its member states. Based on this mandate, between 2019 and 2020, ITFC prepared and approved the AfTIAS 2.0, with the aim of creating an environment conducive to international trade in the Arab region to make it more inclusive and effective to contribute to creating job opportunities and achieving sustainable development.