Iraq eyes EU trade deal

Fin24 (South Africa)

Iraq eyes EU trade deal

12/06/2006

Luxembourg - Iraq’s new government plans to start immediately negotiating a trade and cooperation deal with the European Union, its foreign minister said Monday hailing a "new chapter" in ties with the bloc.

Hoshyar Zebari, speaking after talks with EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, said the new Baghdad leadership is determined, though realistic about its hopes for the violence-wracked country.

"We don’t want to paint a rosy picture about the situation in Iraq. It’s still difficult, it’s complex," he told reporters.

But he insisted: "We are facing a new beginning ... we have every opportunity to change the situation and turn it around, but we will need (the) continued support and engagement of the European Union."

Concretely, he said the EU commission had presented him with plans in Luxembourg for the trade and cooperation agreement, which notably includes plans to help Baghdad apply for World Trade Organisation (WTO) membership.

"This is an important step for us to move forward," he said.

Asked when negotiations would begin, he said: "Very soon. It’s on the table ... We the Iraqi side will send a delegation here to immediately start negotiations."

EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner echoed his comments. "I think that this would be a major step forward," she said.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, unveiled plans for its relations with the new Iraqi government last week, including a pledge of €200m in aid for this year.

The Iraqi minister said: "We were reassured that after the formation of the Iraqi constitutional government there would be a new chapter in relations between the European Union and the new government of Iraq."

Zebari also sought to downplay the significance of the new Italian government’s decision to pull its troops out of Iraq by the end of the year, after talks with his Italian counterpart.

"We reached an understanding that the pullout should not be sudden or abrupt, to leave behind a security vaccum. It should be gradual I think," he said.

Also on Monday in Luxembourg the EU ministers agreed to extend by four months a training mission for Iraqi police, judicial and penal officials, from the end of June to the end of October this year.

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source: Fin24