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Tue 20 Jan 2009 08:24 AM

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Arab fund of $2bn for small businesses

The first economic summit calls for Arab unity on development in the face of the global crisis.

An Arab fund of $2 billion for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) has been set up to help the region battle against the global economic crisis, it was announced at the Arab Economic Summit on Monday.

In his opening address, the Amir of Kuwait, Sheikh Nasser Al Mohammed Al Sabah, said his country would contribute $500 million capital for the initiative, which would provide financial resources for supporting SMEs.

The initiative represented an important milestone in cooperation between Arab countries, Sheikh Sabah added, according to UAE daily, Emirates Business.

The fund will be managed by Kuwait-based Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development that was made up of a board of trustees from participating countries, who had come up with the fund idea.

It would also provide the necessary financing tools and guarantee sustainability of the programme, Sheikh Sabah said, adding that he was looking forward for contributions from Arab countries.

This initiative would: "Be a vital source for enhancing Arab corporate work and enhancing the role of the Arab private sector," he added.

Leaders from 22 countries are attending the first ever Arab Economic Summit, including the heads and finance ministers of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and Syria.

Also in attendance are the United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and the president of the World Bank Robert Zoellick.

Zoellick welcomed the SME fund saying it would help finance "investment in infrastructure projects that can create jobs while building a foundation for future productivity and growth".

He added that the economic crisis had turned into an unemployment crisis for some of the Arab states.

The summit will set up a clear "roadmap" for Arab economy and all related social and developmental issues.

Draft resolutions praised the efforts of the private sector in supporting joint Arab action, and invited the private sector to continue contributing to economic development in the region.

The role of the civil society in the economic, social, and development fields needed to be activated and partnerships between Arab countries boosted, it added.

Development of projects such as region-wide power links and a rail network were in the planning stages, the summit heard.

The conference is also set to discuss food and water security, an Arab customs union, a full employment programme and action on curbing poverty.

Syrian president Bashar Al Assad said that the economic relations were parallel to good political relations, and that fluctuations in Arab relations could not “lead to healthy economic relations".

An Arab trade zone was only a step toward integration and would remain limited if it was not followed up, he said.

"Integration will ensure reduced losses for Arabs and provide cover from any future crises, redirect Arab investments to their natural place and achieve development," Al Assad added.

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