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French Version

Beirut to begin talks on EFTA trade deal (Daily Star)

Hamade seeks pact similar to eu association agreement
Meeting to take place with Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

Lebanon and the four nations of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) began in Beirut on Monday a second round of negotiations to conclude a free trade agreement along the lines of Lebanon’s association agreement with the European Union.

Economy and Trade Minister Marwan Hamade opened a three-day round of talks with representatives from Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland at the Social and Economic Council.

“We hope to conclude a free trade agreement with the EFTA soon,” Hamade said at the start of talks. “We will be working to reach an agreement along the lines of the association agreement with the European Union, which was approved by Parliament and considered by the public as one of the best agreements signed with a foreign country.”

Lebanon signed last year an association agreement with the European Union that frees trade in industrial, agricultural and agro industrial products gradually over a 12-year period, along the lines of the Euro-Med agreement launched at 1995’s Barcelona Process.

The process foresees creating economic, political and cultural cooperation among the 15-member European Union and 12 countries skirting the Mediterranean region.

Lebanon also signed last year with the European Union an interim agreement that allows Lebanon to benefit from early cuts in import duties slapped on Lebanese imports entering European markets.

The interim agreement went into force in March this year, but the association agreement will begin once all parliaments in the union approve it.

Lebanon first began talks with the EFTA group in 1997 and resumed this year.

Stefan Johannesson, Iceland’s permanent representative in Geneva, said he hoped the second round would end this week

Last year, Lebanon exported around $100 million in goods to EFTA countries, mainly jewelry and precious stones to Switzerland. EFTA countries exported around $140 million in goods to Lebanon in 2002, mainly products from Switzerland. EFTA has concluded 21 free trade agreements with non-European countries, including a number of Arab countries.

EFTA already has free trade agreements with Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey.

The EFTA group, which was set up in 1960, is trying to expand its free trade agreement to the Mediterranean basin. “They are also friendly countries to Lebanon and their political policies are fair, backing just causes of the world,” said Hamade. “Their hands have not been sullied by colonization, hegemony or aggression.”

Lebanon’s association agreement with the European Union gave it a five-year grace period before Lebanon starts slashing import duties on European goods entering the country.

Beirut 23-11-2003
Dania Saadi
The Daily Star

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