Egypt has postponed the signing of a long-awaited association agreement with the European Union to June from May, newspapers and diplomats said on Sunday, May 6. Local newspapers quoted Prime Minister Atef Obeid as saying at a meeting on Saturday with visiting German officials that Egypt will sign the agreement in the last week of June.
European diplomats in Cairo told Reuters last week that Egypt would sign the agreement in Brussels on May 14 during an EU ministerial council meeting.
"There was an official invitation to sign (the agreement) on May 14, but a ministerial committee decided that a number of files on the state's modernization in the new century should be prepared," Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa was cited as saying in a report on Sunday by Egypt's official Mena news agency. "I believe the signing should have taken place on May 14," Moussa added.
Negotiations between Egypt and the EU were finalized more than a year ago, but Egypt was unhappy with the provisions on agriculture and reluctant to sign the deal. Egypt had demanded better access to the EU market for its oranges, strawberries, potatoes and beans, while the EU asked Cairo for better access for its cheese and animal feed.
The EU is Egypt's main trading partner, accounting for about nine billion dollars out of its total foreign trade volume of $24 billion in the year ended June 2000.
The EU has started negotiations with its 12 Mediterranean neighbors to sign association agreements as part of the so-called Barcelona process. The ultimate goal is to establish a Euro-Mediterranean free trade zone of 27 countries by 2010.
EU foreign ministers will gather in Brussels for the ministerial council's regular meetings from May 14 to 16. All EU foreign ministers must sign the accord in addition to Moussa. The diplomats said last week that the May 14 date was most likely, because Moussa is leaving his post on May 15 to become the new secretary general of the Arab League.
Diplomats on Sunday said that the EU ministerial council will meet again in late June. One said that renegotiation of any parts of the agreement was "impossible", after it was finally initialed in January.
Tunisia, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan have already signed their own association agreements. — (Reuters, Cairo)
© Reuters 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)