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EU urges more Mediterranean trade

The European Union presidency called on Tuesday for better trade opportunities with and among Israel and its Arab neighbors as a way of promoting better relations.

At the opening of a ministerial meeting of the 25 EU nations and its Mediterranean partners, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, who chaired the meeting, said that “in the absence of a major market in the south, our efforts will not be rewarded.”

The EU used the event to exploit a February 8 Israeli-Palestinian truce to push an ambitious plan to boost education, trade, economic integration and human rights programs in the region as part of an overall effort to craft a Euro-Mediterranean free trade area by 2010. Spain is to host the next Euro- Med summit in Barcelona on November 27-28. The summit will be the first meeting at such a senior level since the Euro-Mediterranean partnership was set up in 1995. The group is one of the few forums where Israel, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority meet.

The meeting will be organized by Spain and Britain, which takes over the EU’s rotating presidency in July. “The Euro-Mediterranean summit of next November is intended to push the Euro- Mediterranean partnership to a higher level, to reflect the changes in the region since 1995 and to develop an action plan in key areas such as good governance, economic reform and education,” the document said. Several past attempts to organize such a summit have foundered over the Arab-Israeli dispute, diplomats said.

However, they said Syrian President Bashar Assad had indicated privately he would attend and Israel was expected to send either its figurehead president or its prime minister. The Euro-Mediterranean partnership aims to promote free trade, economic development, good governance and cultural cooperation among the EU’s southern neighbors. However it has been dogged both by the Israeli- Palestinian issue and by human rights violations, democratic shortcomings, opaque governance and corruption in many of the partner countries, EU officials say.

Beirut,06 06 2005
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