How is it that Cyprus, a Mediterranean country full of citrus groves, imports lemons from Argentina?
The fact is, there are fundamental flaws in the way we grow citrus, and how we trade it, en route to our kitchens.
First, in trade terms, Mediterranean countries are currently without a regional free trade agreement covering the exchange of goods and services intra-regionally – which hinders the organic growth of the region’s economies. Hence, in Cyprus we can import lemons at competitive prices from Argentina, but not from neighbouring Tunisia, Morocco or Israel.
Second, government subsidies provided in specific areas – for example, dairy farming – mean farmers look at production based on subsidy rather than market need or product quality.
Third, and most importantly, climate change, water access issues and high temperatures necessitate technology and knowhow that require farmers to invest time and money if they are to adopt new methods. There needs to be a forward-looking agricultural policy in all of the countries around the Med, one that takes into account climate-smart, technology-enabled agriculture solutions relating to aspects such as water treatment and preservation, soil variety and rotating land use.
A good example that comes to mind is the approach taken by the Dutch Rabobank AGRI3 Fund, which enables commercial and development banks to take a leading role in kicking off the transition to more sustainable agriculture. Rabobank runs this fund in partnership with UN Environment. We can replicate this model through the financial industry in the Mediterranean.
These are some of the points I will raise in my speech on Euro-Arab economic growth, along with ideas on how to improve intra-regional collaboration and trade, at the upcoming International Arab Banking Summit to be held in Rome on 25 June.