Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Obeid said on Monday, May 28, that his country would sign a trade liberalization pact with the European Union after the government starts implementing a plan to overhaul the economy.
Under the agreement, Obeid said that custom duties would be cut and barriers on foreign trade ― except for agricultural products ― would be completely lifted 14 years from the date of the signing.
"That means we are required to lift the performance to what it is in Europe. This would require what we have called the complete modernization of the Egyptian society, modernization that would include the entire industrial sector and the setting up necessary infrastructure," he explained.
Obeid, who was speaking during a brief stop in the United Arab Emirates en route to this week's G-15 summit in Jakarta, did not give a specific date for the signing.
Earlier this month, Egypt postponed the May 14 signing of the long-awaited association agreement and newspapers quoted Obeid as saying that the deal would be clinched by end-June.
Egyptian media quoted then-Foreign Minister Amr Moussa as saying the signing had been delayed because a ministerial committee had decided that "a number of files on the state's modernization in the new century should be prepared."
"The countdown would start from the date of the signing and according to the agreed timetable," he said. "Within 14 years, all Egyptian producers of goods and service should be at the level of their European counterparts."
Obeid said his government wanted to make sure that Egyptian producers were able to compete with their European counterparts when the agreement took effect.
Egypt was unhappy with the provisions on agriculture and was said to be reluctant to sign the deal. It 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 in the year ended in June 2000.
The EU has started negotiations with 12 Mediterranean states on 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. Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have already signed their association agreements. ― (Reuters, Dubai)
By Sami Aboudi
© Reuters 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)