|Marrakesh conference eyes Euro-Med economic integration
|Last November representatives of Heads of State and Government from the EU and the Mediterranean countries met in Barcelona to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Euromed Process. Since the launch of the Barcelona Process in 1995, the EU has moved significantly closer to its Mediterranean partners.
We have found constructive ways to develop the vital trade that ties the countries of the Mediterranean together. Through a network of Association Agreements, we are pushing towards a regional Free Trade Agreement (FTA) by 2010.
Today in Marrakech, Trade Ministers from the EU and the Mediterranean Countries are holding their fifth Ministerial Conference. We will reaffirm the wider goal of an FTA by 2010. The bottom line is that we want to create more employment and growth through economic integration and by attracting investment to a region that badly needs it.
It is time for a quantum leap in progress toward the Barcelona goals.
Over recent years we have worked hard on a regional level to harmonize product standards and to make our rules of origin more trade-friendly for key regional products such as textiles. The EU has supported the modernization and simplification of customs procedures in the Mediterranean countries, assisting with automation and helping reduce the time for goods passing through customs.
We have provided duty-free access to the EU market for all Mediterranean industrial exports and offered big new preferences for agricultural exports to Europe from the region.
The EU has also strongly backed the signing of free-trade agreements between the countries of the Mediterranean. A number of recent agreements, such as those between Turkey and a number of Mediterranean countries, are examples. The goal is to open markets not just between the EU and Mediterranean countries but between Mediterranean countries themselves.
Today we will open negotiations between the EU and most of our Mediterranean partners to liberalize services and investment. Services already account for some 60 percent of Mediterranean countries' gross domestic product (GDP).
Today we have the key to unlock the untapped potential in sectors such as tourism, transport, telecommunications, financial services, construction and environmental services. Everything we can do to make it easier to establish companies across the region will help, attracting investment and stimulating growth.
We can also look ahead to the further liberalization of agricultural trade in the Euro-Med region - taking into account certain sensitivities. Some 80 percent of agricultural imports from Mediterranean countries to the EU can enter the EU Market duty-free.
As well as further improving this access in both directions we can also work on related questions of rural development and food quality. It is an effort worth making.
Whatever efforts we can make to removing regulatory barriers for our exporters will also boost trade. Ministers will agree today to step up the approximation of our technical legislation and standards to help traders move goods around the region more easily.
We'll also set out to agree to clear rules on the settlement of trade disputes between the EU and each partner in the region. This is the only way to be sure we can deal with problems openly and amicably if they arise, and to ensure a more predictable and transparent legal framework for everyone.
The Marrakech meeting is both topical and timely. Across the Mediterranean region economic reform is helping trade develop and opening new prospects for closer commercial relations.
The initiatives we launch today take us another step down the road to making a free trade area of the Euro-Mediterranean region a reality. They will bring us closer together as traders, and as neighbors.
Peter Mandelson is European Commissioner for Trade.
The Daily Star