27/11/2007 - Arab and OECD countries are launching new initiatives to promote investment in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, including a women business leaders' forum and a landmark "MENA 500 Companies" publication presenting the region's leading commercial groups, as part of an ongoing drive to boost economic growth through their MENA-OECD Investment Programme.
The initiatives were agreed at a ground-breaking conference bringing together women business leaders and government representatives from more than 30 countries, which also included a "match-making" event organised by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) to link up potential future commercial partners.
The conference marked the start of three days of top-level meetings in the framework of the MENA-OECD Good Governance and Investment for Development Initiative, launched in 2004. On Wednesday 28 November, ministers participating in a MENA-OECD Investment Ministerial Meeting are due to report on measures to improve conditions for commercial investment in MENA countries. On Thursday 29 November, ministers in charge of public services will tackle issues relating to governance and public administration.
Speaking at the opening of the first ever MENA-OECD Women Business Leaders Forum, Egypt's Minister for Investment, Dr. Mahmoud Mohieldin, emphasised the need to tackle corruption and to ensure high standards of corporate governance and corporate social responsibility as essential elements for a favourable environment for investment.
OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría hailed the advances made in the region's economies over the past few years but stressed the need for further reforms and in particular for moves to enhance women's involvement in business and economic activities. Economies in the MENA region have been growing at an annual average rate of five percent since 2001, he noted, while foreign direct investment flows to the region have more than quadrupled during the past three years,exports have expanded significantly and unemployment has fallen.
But this is just a beginning, Mr. Gurría added, citing in particular the need to increase the rate of participation of women in the labour force. Although this ratio has increased in recent decades, he noted, it is still low by international standards at around 28 pct on average and as low as 11 per cent in West Bank Gaza and 15 per cent in Saudi Arabia.
"Obstacles that hinder women's participation in the labour force include: employer gender preferences; the scarcity of jobs in general; wage discrimination between genders; and laws that restrict women's freedom to work, travel or borrow from financial institutions - all have an adverse effect on women's capacity for entrepreneurship," Mr. Gurría said. "No country can raise the standard of living of its people without the contribution of half of its population. The experience of OECD countries shows that women are fundamental agents of economic growth, development and change."
For further information on the MENA/OECD Good Governance and Investment for Development Initiative, please see www.oecd.org/mena