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Trade Ministers Look For Euro-Med Free Trade Area

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

15 November 2010

Working towards a full Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area (EMFTA) and how to boost Euro-Mediterranean trade and investment were on the agenda of a recent meeting between The European Union (EU) Trade Commissioner, Karel De Gucht, and trade ministers of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) in Brussels.

The Euro-Mediterranean partnership, launched in 1995 and revamped in 2008 with the creation of the UfM, has strengthened trade relations between the EU and Southern Mediterranean countries.

"Since 1995, we have made significant progress in deepening trade relations in the Euro-Mediterranean region", said De Gucht. "The EU remains strongly committed to an ambitious agenda that can enhance growth and prosperity on all sides of the Mediterranean.”

The EU is the most important trading partner for the region, covering more than 40% of its total trade. In 2009, EU-Southern Mediterranean countries' total trade in goods amounted to almost EUR200bn (USD274bn).

The key objective of the Euro-Mediterranean trade partnership remains the creation of a full EMFTA, which aims at liberalizing trade between both the EU and Southern Mediterranean countries, and among Southern Mediterranean countries themselves. It was said that significant progress has been made towards this objective in the past year.

Indeed, while an EMFTA has already been established, it is not yet complete in terms of both geographical coverage and scope. In 1995 the objective was to conclude a free trade area covering essentially trade in goods, whereas today, the objective has become to establish a deep and fully-fledged free trade area across the Mediterranean, including services and investment, public procurement and regulatory areas.

Bilateral trade relations are governed by the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements concluded between the EU and each Southern Mediterranean partner (with the only exception of Syria). These agreements, which cover essentially trade in goods, are being complemented with a number of additional negotiations to open up additional agricultural trade and liberalize trade in services and establishment, as well as establish bilateral dispute settlement mechanisms for trade matters.

Negotiations have also been concluded on the single regional convention on Pan-Euro-Mediterranean rules of origin, which, once signed and in force, will replace the current network of bilateral origin protocols annexed to the Association Agreements.

Deepening economic integration between Southern Mediterranean countries themselves is also an essential element towards the establishment of a fully-fledged EMFTA and to increase the economic potential for the Southern Mediterranean region as a whole.

Southern Mediterranean partners are in the process of setting up a network of free trade agreements (FTAs) between each other. This network will not be concluded by end-2010, despite progress made in recent years. The Agadir Agreement (Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt) has been in place since 2007 and open to other Arab Mediterranean countries. In addition, a number of FTAs have been concluded by Israel and by Turkey with Southern Mediterranean partners, and other FTAs are being negotiated.

In the longer run, the key objective therefore will be to turn the Association Agreements and the agreements between Southern Mediterranean partners into a deep and comprehensive EMFTA.

In 2011, the ministers also agreed to focus on initiatives that can bring the partnership closer to economic operators, such as a trade and investment facilitation mechanism to provide centralized information on trade and investment flows, regulations and conditions in the Euro-Mediterranean region.

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