Iraq, Egypt sign deal to set up free trade zone
Iraq and Egypt signed an agreement in Cairo Thursday to set up a free trade zone, amid growing ties between the two countries despite 10 years of sanctions against Baghdad. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan and Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Ebeid signed the deal, which was to take effect immediately, according to the state-run Egyptian news agency MENA.
Under the terms of the accord, Iraq will abolish customs barriers for Egyptian products and the two countries will form a single market, officials say. "The Egyptian-Iraqi agreement represents a first step for establishing an Arab common market", Ebeid said during signing ceremonies. Arab officials have set a target of 2007 for such a market.
Ramadan said meanwhile that "this agreement is the first to be signed in the Arab world. I invite all the Arab brothers to join in". Egypt, Iraq and Libya intend to set up a trilateral free trade zone, according to Arab League sources.
Before heading for Cairo on Tuesday, Ramadan "welcomed the level of economic and commercial relations between the two countries despite the unjust embargo imposed on Iraq".
Iraq was giving "priority to Arab countries in the framework of the (UN) oil-for-food program," under which Baghdad exports crude in exchange for imports of food, medicine and other essential goods, he said.
Egypt, the top supplier of sanctions-hit Baghdad under the UN oil-for-food program, exported $1.2 billion of goods to Iraq in 2000, up from $400 million in 1999, Egyptian ministers say. Trade has followed improved political ties between the two countries.
Baghdad broke off diplomatic ties with Cairo after Egypt joined a US-led coalition that evicted Iraqi forces from Kuwait in the Gulf War that began 10 years ago Wednesday.
On November 7, the two countries announced the effective resumption of relations. Ramadan said his "extraordinary visit and the first of its kind" was a sign of a restoration of relations between the two countries.
Ramadan, the highest ranking Iraqi to make an official visit to Egypt since the 1991 Gulf War, arrived in Cairo Tuesday with the ministers of trade, transport and agriculture. Cairo has regularly called for an end to the economic sanctions on Iraq. — (AFP, Cairo)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)