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The following countries became members of the Arab Maghreb Union after signing the Treaty Establishing the AMU on 17 February 1989:
The first Conference of Maghreb Economic Ministers in Tunis in 1964 established the Conseil Permanent Cunsultatif du Maghreb (CPCM) between Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia, to coordinate and harmonize the development plans of the four countries as well as inter-regional trade and relations with the European Union (EU). However, the plans never came to fruition. It was not until the late 1980s that new impetus began to bring the parties together again. The first Maghreb Summit of the five Heads of State, held at Zeralda (Algeria) in June 1988, resulted in a decision to set up the Maghreb High Commission and various specialized commissions. The Heads of State of Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia signed the Treaty Establishing the AMU on 17 February 1989 in Marrakech.
Since 1990, the five countries have signed more than 30 multilateral agreements covering diverse economic, social, and cultural areas. While member countries have ratified varying numbers of these agreements, only five have been ratified by all Union members. These include agreements on trade and tariffs (covering all industrial products); trade in agricultural products, investment guarantees; avoidance of double taxation; and phyto-sanitary standards.
The AMU has not met at the level of Heads of State since April 1994, and has effectively been paralysed by the dispute over the status of Western Sahara, annexed by Morocco in 1975, but claimed as an independent state by the Polisario Front with Algerian backing.
The AMU has no relations with the African Economic Community (AEC) and has not yet signed the Protocol on Relations with the AEC. It was, however, originally designated a pillar of the AEC and is still recognized by the AU as one of its eight RECs.
The Union was originally formed principally to enable its members to negotiate with the EU when it declared a single European market and to encourage trade and economic co-operation by allowing freedom of movement across frontiers.
The main objectives of the AMU Treaty are to strengthen all forms of ties among Member States (in order to ensure regional stability and enhance policy coordination), as well as to gradually introduce free circulation of goods, services, and factors of production among them. Common defence and non-interference in the domestic affairs of the partners are also key aspects of the Treaty. The Treaty highlights the broad economic strategy to be followed, namely, the development of agriculture, industry, commerce, food security, and the setting up of joint projects and general economic cooperation programs. Finally, the agreement provides the possibility for other Arab and African countries to join the Union at a later stage.
The union proclamation states that the creation of the bloc was a step towards the eventual unity of all Arab states, in a gesture to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who had proposed extending the confederation to include Chad, Mali, Niger and Sudan.
The supreme institutional organ that has the authority to make decisions and to which all AMU institutions answer is the Presidential Council (Council of Heads of State); its decisions require unanimity. According to the Treaty, the Council was to meet twice a year (in 1993 this was changed from twice a year to annually), to take decisions concerning regional issues. The Council has convened six times, but as not assembled since its meeting in Tunis in 1994.
Figure 1: Basic AMU Organogram
The Seventh Summit of Heads of State and Government was scheduled to take place in Algeria from 23-24 December 2003, however, the meeting was postponed on the request of Libya. Algeria responded by handing over the position of chair to Libya in December 2003.
In a communiqué issued on 22 December 2003 at the end of its meeting, the council of the AMU foreign ministers decided to hand over the periodic AMU chairmanship to Libya that had been held by Algeria for nine years. The following day the proposed summit was postponed. One year later Libya abandoned the presidency of the Union. The General People`s Committee for Foreign Liaison and International Co-operation said in a statement that Libya assumed the presidency of AMU in 2004, and since then it made major efforts to take this responsibility according to the union’s goals.
The statement added that the process of AMU hindered due to many breaches by some member states such as:
Although Libya agreed to again take up its role as president, a regional summit scheduled for 26 May 2005 in Tripoli was postponed indefinitely.
A Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs is supposed to meet regularly to prepare for the sessions of the Council of Heads of State and to examine proposals formulated by subordinate committees and four specialized ministerial commissions (economy and finance, human resources, basic infrastructures and food security). Since 1989, several working groups have been created to address technical issues. The countries have agreed to set up a regional development bank to finance projects in the region. A follow-up Committee, consisting of representatives from each Member State, follows the implementation of resolutions adopted by the Council of Heads of State.
A Consultative Assembly, consisting of 30 representatives from each Member State that can advise the Council of Heads of State, and a Court of Justice, composed of two judges from each Member State, have been set up in Algiers and Nouakchott respectively.
In 1992, AMU`s General Secretariat was established permanently in Rabat. It has an annual operational budget of over US$1.7 million, attained through equal contributions from each member. The 24th Session of the AMU Council of Ministers, meeting in Tripoli on 7 January 2006, approved the appointment of Habib Ben Yahia, former Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs to the post of Secretary-General for a three year period, commencing on 1 February 2006. He replaces Mr Lahbib BoulaÃ¢rass. Council also recommended that a group of experts should start developing a project for the creation of a Maghrebian economic grouping.
A number of specialised committees have been working in such areas as food security, economic and financial affairs, basic infrastructure, and human resources.
AMU/ UMA has no working defence or conflict resolution structures. Its treaty states in Article 14, "any act of aggression against any of the member countries will be considered as an act of aggression against the other member countries”, but provided no definition of what would constitute `aggression`. Common defence and non-interference in the domestic affairs of the partners are important aspects of the Treaty but have not been translated into practice. Though, disagreements over issues such as the Western Sahara still handicap cohesive regional security arrangements, the member states have been able to aid one another in response to natural disasters.