Syria and the European Union will hold negotiations on reaching an association agreement on April 23 and 24 in Damascus, Syrian Minister of State for Planning Affairs Issam Zaim said Saturday, March 17.
"We have set a date with the EU for negotiations which will be in Damascus on April 23 and 24," Zaim told the official SANA news agency.
Syria and the EU have held several rounds of negotiations on an association agreement since 1998. Another round had been set for the end of March, but was postponed on March 11 by Syria.
At the time, Zaim said Syria needed to formulate a national strategy "to revive the public and private industries" and called for "Europeans to take account of economic developments going on in Syria."
The Syrian-EU association agreement should establish a free trade zone by 2010 and give the EU preferential access to the relatively closed Syrian market.
Zaim has previously said he expects the EU to provide Syria with "financial, technical and institutional support" to assist the privatization of Syria's state-controlled economy.
The Syrian government has for the past year been working on modernizing the Syrian economy. Several economic laws, covering in particular the establishment of private banks, are due to be promulgated soon.
During a February visit to Damascus, European Commission President Roman Prodi said he expected an EU-Syria association agreement to be reached by the summer.
The EU has so far given Syria aid worth €73 million ($68 million) and loans of €190 million ($176 million) to finance programs for modernization and social and economic development. — (AFP, Damascus)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )