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Conclusions of the Presidency - Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference on trade - Toledo, 19 March 2002

Conclusions of the Presidency - Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference on TRADE - Toledo, 19 March 2002
The Ministers stressed the very positive signal for the Barcelona process that the grid of Association Agreements between the EU and its Mediterranean partners was about to be completed with the exception of Syria with which negotiations are still ongoing.

Important steps were indeed accomplished. The Association Agreement with Egypt was signed in June 2001, while that with Algeria was initialled in December 2001 and that with Lebanon in January 2002.

The Agreements with Algeria and Lebanon should be signed at the Valencia Conference of Euromed Foreign Affairs Ministers in April. Association Agreements are now in force with Cyprus, Israel, Malta, Morocco, Tunisia, as well as a customs union with Turkey and an Interim Co-operation Agreement with the Palestinian Authority.
The entry into force of the Association Agreement with Jordan is expected in the coming weeks as well as the signature of an interim agreement with Lebanon.

The Ministers stressed that despite the trade development brought by the conclusion of association agreements between Mediterranean partners and the EU, a critical mass of implemented free trade agreements between the partners themselves was still needed for the partnership to acquire a genuine South-South dimension. Trade Ministers stressed that several steps had been taken to deepen and further implement the existing bilateral and regional free trade agreements between Mediterranean partners. Ministers expressed a strong support to all such initiatives that aim at extending free trade agreements to southern and eastern Mediterranean partners

Ministers agreed to the principle of the participation of Mediterranean partners to the system of pan-European cumulation of origin. This will bring a significant breakthrough in this complex but economically important area because it will allow cumulation of origin over the participating countries so that the processed goods can be granted the preferential tariffs available within the whole pan-Euro-Mediterranean area.

The preliminary results of an economic impact study into the extension of the system, currently being carried out by the University of Sussex on behalf of the Commission, indicate that without this possibility, trade between the countries concerned is at least 40% lower than it should be. The impact on foreign direct investment would be also substantial.

Ministers urged countries wishing to take advantage of these additional opportunities to take the necessary steps to adapt their respective association and free trade agreements as soon as possible in order to insert the relevant provisions. In this context, Ministers noted the concerns expressed by some Mediterranean partners about the possible coexistence of different rules of origin. They congratulated the working party on rules of origin for its efficient and successful work completed in a few months time and noted its report. Ministers asked the working group on rules of origin to continue its technical work to solve the practical problems and to present a report on the state of play of the implementation of the system of pan-European cumulation of origin to the next Trade Ministers meeting.

Ministers reaffirmed the importance of services for the improvement of the competitiveness of the national economies and also the attraction of foreign investments. They demanded that the working group on trade in services continue to meet in order to exchange experiences, tackle horizontal work, assess the issues at stake, and organise some in-depth examination of various key service sectors. They confirmed that this group had no negotiating mandate and should contribute to the preparation of negotiations both at the multilateral level and bilateral level, in the context of association agreements, ensuring thus a good coordination between both levels.

Ministers expressed the preference that future meetings of this group focus on a number of sectors and discuss how to improve and liberalise the existing regulatory frameworks. A meeting on transports and telecom should be planned in the second half of 2002 and one on tourism and business services in 2003. Following these two meetings, the working group should meet to draw some preliminary conclusions from the sectoral discussions, and to set out the orientations for the work to follow.

Ministers noted that, in terms of technical assistance, both impact studies and capacity building are highly required. They demanded that the Commission examine relevant technical assistance needs in order to meet them as much as possible within the existing MEDA programmes. Ministers also stressed the urgent need to improve statistics on services.

Ministers noted that, in terms of regional integration, the experience of the past years clearly showed that tariff dismantling alone was not enough to ensure rapid development of trade and a significant rise in direct investment. Businesses (domestic and foreign owned) have to benefit from an economic environment where trade is facilitated by an adaptation and an harmonisation of the regulatory provisions concerning the free movement of goods, standards, right of establishment, intellectual property, inter alia.

This was confirmed by representatives of UNICE and the newly created Union of Mediterranean Confederation of Enterprises (UMCE) that reported to the Ministers the conclusions of the "5th Euro-Mediterranean Business Summit" that took place in Istanbul on 1 and 2 March 2002. A representative of the FEMISE network of economic research institutes confirmed that Barriers to trade were still numerous in some Mediterranean partners

Ministers confirmed that their commitment to the development of the Euro-Mediterranean free trade area, as set out in the Barcelona Declaration, required substantial progress in terms of regional integration measures through approximation of legislation and effective market access.

Ministers decided to create a Working Group on Trade Measures Relevant for Regional Integration. They instructed this group to implement an ambitious Action Plan on Trade and Investment Facilitation covering customs procedures, standardisation issues and conformity assessment, the regulatory framework of investment and the protection of intellectual property rights.

Ministers instructed this group to examine as a first priority measures in relation to the harmonisation, simplification and automation of customs procedures and especially: development of mechanisms for consultation with traders on customs regulations and procedures; publishing and making easily accessible new legislation and general procedures related to customs; establish a work programme to introduce simplification of customs procedures, including the introduction of a single administrative document and of methods such as risk assessment, simplified release procedures, granting of authorised trader status and automated systems.

The group will have to set a common model, or a set of harmonised models, to recommend specific implementation procedures and a time table. The group should report on implementation of measures at the next Euro-Med Trade Ministerial meeting. Ministers stressed that appropriate trade related technical assistance was needed to support this Action Plan and that a proper coordination of such activities currently carried out or in preparation within the partnership had to be ensured.

Mediterranean partners strongly support the Laeken European Council conclusions as regard the creation of a Euromediterranean Bank in order to facilitate additional financing support to the private sector in the Mediterranean region.

Ministers noted the decision taken at the Barcelona European Summit to establish a reinforced financial facility at the European Investment Bank to finance private and infrastructure investments in the Mediterranean countries and the setting up of a non executive supervisory board including all Euro-Mediterranean partners. They also noted that on the basis of an evaluation of the facility's performance, and taking into account the outcome of consultations with Mediterranean partners, a decision on the incorporation of an EIB majority-owned subsidiary dedicated to Mediterranean partners will be considered and taken one year after the launching of the facility.

Finally in reviewing the progress made at the WTO level and the objectives of the Doha Development Agenda, Ministers noted their satisfaction with the fact that the necessary agreements on the structure of the negotiations had been taken in the WTO and that the work on substance can now start in earnest. They underlined their strong support to making rapid progress in the negotiations and to finalise them within the 1.1.2005 deadline. They highlighted their strong will to co-ordinate closely with the goal of obtaining ambitious results on all issues under DDA, satisfactory to all members of the WTO. Ministers also noted the importance of providing to developing countries the appropriate trade related technical assistance and capacity building for the conduct of the DDA negotiations as well as the subsequent implementation of the resulting agreements.
They noted that there was a complementarity of objectives between the Doha Development Agenda and the Euro-Mediterranean free trade process and acknowledged that progress at all levels was to be continued.

Bruxelles,03 20 2002
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