EMA Expert Talks

Mittelstandsförderung am Mittelmeer

ASCAME General Coordinator Anwar Zibaoui © Privat | ASCAMEDie EMA ist das einzige deutsche Mitglied im Verband der mediterranen Kammern und Verbände und stellt als solche das Bindeglied zwischen der deutschen Wirtschaft und der Mittelmeerregion dar. Wie kann ASCAME Unternehmen angesichts der Covid-19-Pandemie unterstützen? Welche Lösungen können Länder, Organisationen und Unternehmen rund ums Mittelmeer finden, um die Pandemie gemeinsam zu bewältigen? Anwar Zibaoui, General Coordinator bei ASCAME, hat die Fragen der EMA beantwortet und berichtet über wichtige Ansätze für Tourismus, Digitalisierung, Lieferketten und Gesundheit insbesondere für mittelständische Unternehmen.

Anwar Zibaoui is General Coordinator of the Association of the Mediterranean Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASCAME), the main representative of the Mediterranean private sector. He is an expert in economics, international relations, international organisations, and entrepreneurship in the Gulf and the MENA regions and has worked in establishing new businesses and driving business growth in multinational organisations across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa for close to 30 years.

 

EMA: ASCAME is the Association of the Mediterranean Chambers of Commerce and Industry. Could you give us an overview of your missions and objectives, especially in the times of Covid-19?

Anwar Zibaoui: ASCAME is the main representative of the Mediterranean private sector. It brings together Chambers of Commerce and Industry and other similar entities from both shores of the Mediterranean region, representing, today, more than 300 members from 23 countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea. Our aim of is to unite all the key players of the Mediterranean private sector in order to contribute to the development of economic exchanges within the region and to strongly encourage Euro-Mediterranean association and the regional integration, through the essential role played by the private sector.

ASCAME is the voice of the economy and private sector before major institutional and economic actors, helping the chambers to participate with their own voice in the key areas of the Mediterranean development and offer a coordinated and synergistic response. Through ASCAME, the chambers influence and participate in the key issues that drive and condition development and growth, offering a perspective clearly focused on the Mediterranean area.

ASCAME is actively working towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the associated SDGs. Indeed, most of the elements of the 2030 Agenda will only be realized through sustainable tourism, transport sector, support for women and youth, world trade and global economy.

As you know, the world is experiencing a health emergency of unprecedented impact. Covid-19 is affecting the whole world and, now more than ever, we must work together to overcome this challenge. ASCAME stands besides its members and the Mediterranean private sector in the fight against the Corona virus outbreak and, especially, will give them support to face its negative consequences on the Mediterranean economies and businesses.

Several countries of the Mediterranean region have been severely hit by Covid-19. How is the Mediterranean private sector currently dealing with the situation?

The region lives immersed in multiple challenges: the pandemic, economic development, climate change, demography, youth, the inclusion of women, unemployment, urbanisation, education, democracy... And despite everything, we are doomed to succeed.

In our region, the most seriously affected by the pandemic, the global economy is expected to lose near 8.5 trillion USD in output over the next two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. GDP growth in the Mediterranean economies is expected to plunge to minus five per cent in 2020. A modest, 3.4 per cent growth – barely enough to make up for the lost output – is expected in 2021. Trade is forecast to contract by nearly 15 per cent in 2020 amid sharply reduced global demand and disruptions in global supply chains.

Tourist arrivals in the Mediterranean region could decline by 20 to 30 per cent in 2020. This translates into a loss of 100 to 200 billion USD in international tourism receipts (exports). A constant deterioration of the regional economic situation since it began conducting weekly updates, with economic impacts in lower-income regional economies following demand shocks in higher-income countries, where outbreaks have struck first and hardest.

The immediate and long-term economic fallout from the pandemic presents a major threat to progress on several of the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals, including the goals to eliminate extreme poverty and to reduce economic inequality. Government stimulus packages can only go so far in stemming the damage, which could be compounded by ongoing concerns about debt burdens in some nations. A year from now we may have many Mediterranean countries in debt distress and a handful, if not more, who are in a crisis, having defaulted and seen their markets dissolve into chaos.

How is ASCAME supporting the private sector to overcome the current and future consequences of this global pandemic?

ASCAME is committed to playing its strategic role in supporting the chambers of commerce and the regional business sector, preserving its interests, and keeping it up to date with the current developments. It is important to highlight that the availability of reliable and accurate information is an essential part of plans to confront and overcome these exceptional circumstances.

ASCAME has launched several initiatives to support both SMEs and the whole private sector facing the Corona virus economic crisis. Our association has been calling for several weeks for recovery plans focused on regional tourism, SMEs and industry, supported by a regional international recovery fund: a plan to save our industries and our economies, but also to spur their transformation towards a green, digital, and resilient economy.

ASCAME has launched an informative Help Desk, the new ‘HelpDesk Covid-19 Info’, with the aim of following the developments and impact of the Corona virus pandemic on the economy and business sector in all Mediterranean countries and the world. The main objective of the HelpDesk Covid-19 Info is to help Mediterranean chambers of commerce, companies, and institutions in the region overcome the negative economic effects of the spread of the virus. As an informative tool, the new HelpDesk includes news, economic and educational resources, and various economic viewpoints related to the current challenges and threats as well as ways to confront them. In addition to this, it also contains short promotional videos on various topics concerning ASCAME’s members, about relevant business topics, and also about Mediterranean public and private sector representatives. Moreover, it includes interactive questionnaires for readers about the economy, the effects of the current crisis on their work, and proposals to confront them in addition to providing comprehensive and updated information about Mediterranean countries. Several pieces of news, articles, analysis, and documented news will be shared through this new channel.

As the coordinator of the most important representative organization of the Mediterranean private sector, which solutions can the Mediterranean countries, organizations, and multipliers find together to minimize the impact of the situation’s repercussions?

Getting out of this deep crisis and placing value on Mediterranean tourism seems the most obvious answer. However, what is the strategy
to follow? What tools will economic actors and communities implement? The exchange of best practices and coordination between countries on the two Mediterranean shores should be the priority. Governments, the private sector, and the international community must work together to overcome Covid-19 and the unprecedented social and economic crisis it has caused. However, the stimulus capacity will vary considerably from one country to another. Various factors will come into play, such as infrastructure, human resources, the economic capacity, and even political factors. There is an urgent need to mitigate the impact of the crisis, guarantee the recovery of tourism, and allow the sector to play a leading role in the overall recovery.

To accelerate the recovery, it is necessary to promote stimulus policies and provide financial incentives for investment, tourist exploitation, and preparation for the future, for example, giving incentives for job retention, supporting SMEs and sectoral startups, and protecting the most vulnerable groups or reviewing taxes and regulations that affect transport and tourism. Also guaranteeing consumer protection and trust, promoting events and conferences, new jobs and skills acquisition, especially in the digital area would have a stimulating effect. Including tourism in economic emergency mechanisms at a national, regional, and global level to restore confidence and stimulate demand is as essential as creating crisis management strategies – in conclusion, prioritising tourism in national, regional, or international recovery programs and in development aid.

The micro, small, and medium-sized companies, which constitute the backbone of our economy, and their workers who represent more than 80 per cent of employment in many countries, will be the most affected by the economic impacts of Covid-19. That is why governments must commit to taking urgent stimulus and safeguard measures to maintain their viability and avoid rampant unemployment.

There are many challenges at stake, particularly in tourism management and the fight against pollution. Climate change is a serious threat to development and sustainability. Resources must be managed, energy policies must be promoted, and our great common historical heritage must be preserved. Industry can take off from a massive recession although efforts to do so have not yet begun. It is essential to have ambition and formulate a new Mediterranean global vision for the region to become a leader in green economy. Large-scale solar parks and onshore wind farms offer the cheapest source of electricity for approximately two-thirds of the world's population. The future is optimistic.

What are ASCAME's upcoming projects and events after the end of lockdowns? And how could our two organizations work together?

Despite Covid-19, ASCAME as an organization has been working very actively becoming the main reference for the Mediterranean region in the reaction of the private sector against the health crisis. Regarding all projects led by ASCAME’s members, our members have continued to work vigorously across the Mediterranean.

The unexpected allies have been innovation and digital technology which have helped to avoid the impact of Covid-19 on people, companies, and governments. Amid the chaos, a new era based on the digital emerges creating new opportunities. However, the benefits of technology are not distributed equally, since more than 3,600 million people on the planet still do not have access to the Internet. In the informal economy teleworking does not exist. For millions of children accessing online education is a remote dream. It is time to react in a coordinated way to new challenges because innovation and digitisation are here to stay. Its implementation has accelerated and there is no turning back. The digital potential is unlimited which represents an opportunity for the Mediterranean: a large market with rapid growth, a hub of innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship where resources are found in youth to find solutions to pressing problems.

At ASCAME we work with several other organizations in order to launch joint initiatives that contribute to mitigate the economic and social consequences of the post Covid-19 pandemic through technology and innovation, with special attention to the recovery of industrial and business sectors.

We will also cooperate in the design of products like masks, tests, and other sanitary materials and launch projects within the framework of different programmes to fight Covid-19 in the Mediterranean region and Africa.

Beyond the immediate challenge, initiatives must be urgently promoted to make trade flows more robust. The construction of digital platforms will be crucial to adapt to this new type of crisis in the long term. The digitised supply chain, in addition to the global network of ports, terminals, and economic zones, will guarantee the transportation of cargo from one place to another through just one click. New technologies are driving online logistics and enabling smarter commerce with more efficiency throughout the supply chain and greater visibility and transparency; in turn allowing the movement of goods to be optimised and redirected to where they are most needed.

The Mediterranean has more than 450 ports and terminals, represents 30 per cent of world maritime trade by volume and is the leading tourist destination in the world. It is the point of confluence of three continents (Africa, Asia, and Europe) where 500 million people live. From this new situation, a large platform with unique characteristics may emerge to facilitate world trade.

The future of the region depends on the ability to adapt to new realities, build bridges, create meeting spaces to transform this threat into an opportunity, and turn weakness into strength. This would allow to properly face the challenges, create a common future by adding capabilities, and apply this synergy to the search for new paths.