Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri met with French President Jacques Chirac Sunday, December 9, in a bid to push forward a European Union (EU) association accord held up by Britain's last-minute demand for the inclusion of an anti-terrorism clause. Just two weeks earlier, European Commission President Romano Prodi announced that the accord, which has been negotiated since 1995, would be signed by mid-December.
"The inclusion of a provision on terrorism (is) identical to the one requested of Algeria and Egypt," Patrick Renauld, the EU representative in Beirut, told AFP. EU members France, Germany and Greece oppose the article’s addition and have declared they would like to see the accord signed without further delay.
Negotiations for the agreement were stalled until recently due to a disagreement over high tariffs charged by Lebanon. Talks were relaunched after Hariri’s government significantly lowered customs last November, a move for which Lebanon hopes to see some $460 million in financial compensation from the EU. Other contended issues considerably advanced in recent negotiations include trade in agricultural goods, copyright laws and the exchange of labor.
The overdue accord is considered a key factor in reviving Lebanon’s struggling economy, by giving Lebanese traders easier access to European markets. The balance of trade is heavily tilted in favor of the EU, Lebanon’s principal trade partner and the provider of nearly one-third of Beirut's foreign aid. EU member countries account for 32 percent, or $1.7 billion, of Lebanon’s total import bills in the first nine months of this year, while Lebanese exports to the EU equaled $440 million, or seven percent of the country’s total exports over the same period, according to Lebinvest figures.
The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership accords provide for the creation of a free trade area between the European bloc and the 12 countries of the Mediterranean Basin. The EU is already bound by similar association accords to Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Jordan. The agreements cover the three main areas included in the 1995 Barcelona Declaration—political dialogue, economic relations and cooperation in social and cultural affairs—and replace cooperation agreements concluded in the 1970s.
An Egyptian–EU partnership agreement was signed late June 2001. The agreement stipulates the establishment of a free trade area between the two parties, whereby Egyptian industrial goods will immediately enjoy free tariff and quota entry to EU Markets, while EU goods will endure a 12-year transitional period before free entry is granted into the Egyptian market, to be followed by a further three-year “wrap up“ period.
Algeria and the EU will sign an association accord on December 19, following the conclusion of five-year long negotiations between the two sides. Pending issues included the movement of people and struggle against terrorism. The signing ceremony, taking place in Brussels, will be attended by the Algerian President Abdul Aziz Butaflika and the President of the European Commission Romano Prodi. — (menareport.com)
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )