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Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan agree on free trade

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afrol News, 1 April - The free trade zone between Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan became closer to realisation after experts from the four countries met in Tunis this weekend to draft an agreement. The free trade zone will be an addition to the large number of free trade agreements in the area, including the trade agreements these countries have with the European Union.

The Moroccan delegation was quoted by Arabic News saying that the expert group that had met in Tunis almost had finalised the free trade zone agreement between the four states. The session had in particular looked into trade liberalisation. The group was to hold another session in Morocco within short time.

Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia last year agreed to set up a free trade zone ahead of the 2010 target for trade barriers to end in the Euro-Mediterranean area. The zone would also "be open to other Arab countries" the Moroccan government has announced, in reference to Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.

The process, initiated in the Moroccan holiday resort Agadir in May last year, has been spearheaded by the Moroccan King Mohammed VI. The free trade agreement is scheduled to be definitively approved in the course this year. In addition to ease trade between these countries, the cooperation also has international political implications as these countries may enter trade negotiations as a block.

The EU has conducted negotiations with 12 Mediterranean states as part of the so-called Barcelona process of cooperation between the EU and its southern neighbours. The association agreements call for closer economic, political and social ties. The ultimate goal is to establish a Euro-Mediterranean free trade zone of 27 countries by 2010. The EU recently held it was "driving to reinvigorate the Barcelona Process." There are also bilateral free trade accords between several Arab countries.

EU's External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten has welcomed the free trade agreement between Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. "This is precisely the sort of strengthened co-operation which the Commission had called for in its communication on 'Reinvigoration of Barcelona'," Patten has stated. The EU has offered aid in the form of technical assistance to this process. 

The Euro-Mediterranean free trade zone is however the issue of importance behind the new, regional free trade zone. The trade between these four countries is indeed very limited. The EU is the most important trade partner for all the four countries. Far more than half of Morocco's and Tunisia's external trade is with the EU. 35 percent of Egypt's trade is with the EU. None of the four countries is on the other's top-five-list of import or export partners 

Sources: Based on press reports, EU sources and afrol archives

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