(MENAFN - Arab News) Leaders of major Arab countries will attend the third Arab Economic and Social Development Summit that opens in Riyadh on Jan. 21. The summit, which the Kingdom hosts for the first time, is expected to draw a road map for the region's economic development.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has sent invitations to Arab heads of state including Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi, King Abdallah of Jordan and President Michel Suleiman of Lebanon to attend the two-day conference.
Abdullah Al-Mubti, president of the Council of Saudi Chambers, said summit would discuss important topics including ways to promote intra-Arab trade and how to overcome impact of global economic crisis. He stressed the need to remove obstacles facing trade between Arab League member countries.
Speaking to Arab News, Al-Mubti said a private sector forum would be held on Jan. 12-13 with the participation of more than 500 delegates including ministers, government officials, businessmen and bankers ahead of the summit.
"The forum will figure out the Arab private sector's hopes and aspirations toward enhancing its participation in the economic development of Arab countries and make a number of important proposals to the summit leaders," he said.
The forum will focus on three main topics: First, difficulties facing implementation of the past two summits' resolutions. Second, private sector requirements to meet global challenges, increase inter-Arab trade and investment flow and protect investment. Third, promotion of a number of leading projects in order to achieve Arab economic integration.
Al-Mubti stressed the important role being played by the private sector, saying it contributes 50 percent of Arab gross domestic product.
"We'll make proposals to Arab leaders attending the summit to create a suitable atmosphere for the increased flow of trade and investment between Arab countries and strengthen the private sector's role in economic development," he added.
Al-Mubti, who is vice president of the Federation of Arab Chambers for Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, highlighted the significance of the Riyadh summit, saying it comes at a time when many Arab and non-Arab countries face difficult challenges that demand formation of a strong Arab economic force.
"The Kingdom's hosting of the summit reflects its leading Arab, regional and international role and its desire to strengthen Arab economic cooperation," Al-Mubti said.
He said the private sector forum would take up 21 investment projects proposed by nine Arab organizations, adding that they focus on food security, agricultural development, and creation for more jobs for the youth.
Meanwhile, the Arab League has finalized all arrangements for the summit in association with Saudi authorities, said Assistant Secretary General for Economic Affairs Mohammad bin Ibrahim Al-Tuweijri.
The Arab ministers of finance and economy will meet on Jan. 19 to discuss the agenda and other issues such as food security, renewable energy and Arabization of the Internet.
Al-Tuwaijri lauded the initiative of Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah for launching a fund to support the small and medium enterprises (SMEs). It was one of most important achievement of the first Arab economic summit, which was held in Kuwait in January 2009.
"The deposits in the fund reached 1.2 billion and the fund has started financing SMEs in several Arab countries," he said. Loans offered so far amount to 157 million.
"Seven Arab countries, including Egypt, Algeria, Mauritania, Jordan and Sudan, will be receiving funding for their SMEs soon," Al-Tuweijri said. "The fund has set aside 60 million for two projects and 20 million for two others," he said, affirming that the funding of projects would have tangible results in two years.
Arab League Deputy Secretary-General Ahmed Ben Hamli stated that the conference would discuss the economic situation of Arab Spring countries - Egypt, Tunisia and Libya - as they have seen drastic changes.
"These countries are economically suffering and there will be some form of support through projects or Riyadh Declaration. There are a number of ideas which will be discussed during the summit," he said.
The summit will take joint Arab action through completion of several practical and realistic projects, which will contribute to linking the Arab world including activation of the Arab Convention for Investment in Arab countries.
In a related development, Khalil Abdullah Al-Khonji, president of the Federation of GCC Chambers, expressed his hope that the summit's resolutions would contribute to economic integration of Arab countries.
He said the private sector forum would discuss a number of topics to strengthen the sector in order to play a better role in boosting Arab economic growth by enhancing investment and trade flow.
"The private sector in Arab countries hope that the Riyadh summit would take serious steps to remove trade barriers and ease customs procedures to increase inter-Arab trade," Al-Khonji said.
The summit should also instruct the concerned ministries and departments in Arab countries to welcome Arab investors by opening investment opportunities for them in vital sectors and removing restrictions.