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EU backs southeast Europe free-trade pact in 2006

Daily Times (Pakistan), Tuesday, April 04, 2006

EU backs southeast Europe free-trade pact in 2006

CEFTA-resembling agreement will replace 31 bilateral deals

BRUSSELS: The European Union will give strong support to efforts by the continent’s southeastern countries, most of them in the Balkans, to sign a regional free trade deal this year, EU officials said on Monday.

The prime ministers of eight countries are due to meet in Romania on Thursday to launch talks on the deal to replace a myriad of bilateral trade agreements with a single pact to boost economic ties in the region. The agreement would resemble the Central Europe Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) that served as a forum for economic cooperation for the countries that joined the EU in 2004.

“CEFTA will pass on its baton to another group of countries that may become candidates for EU membership,” an official of the executive European Commission told reporters.

The deal could be signed this year and take effect in 2007, said an official from the Stability Pact for the Balkans, an international body promoting peace and democracy in the area that was created after wars in former Yugoslavia.

The new trade deal will embrace Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Moldova, Serbia and Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Kosovo which is administered by the United Nations.

Bulgaria and Romania will take part in the talks but will not belong to the group once they join the EU in 2007 or 2008. Trade within the region increased to 3.5 billion euros ($4.22 billion) in 2004 from 2.7 billion euros. Its trade with the rest of the world increased to 36.4 billion euros from 30.2 billion euros over the period, Commission figures show.

The planned Free Trade Agreement in South Eastern Europe will replace 31 bilateral trade deals and will confirm the scrapping of nearly all customs tariffs on industrial good and open the way for talks to further liberalisation in farm trade.

The current complex regulations are a “nightmare for traders and investors, who think in regional terms,” the Commission official said. Reuters

 source: Daily Times