The launch of the pan-Euro-Mediterranean (Euromed) system of rules of origin, fundamental to developing trade and fostering regional integration, will be top of the agenda at the third Euromed Trade Ministerial meeting in Palermo, Italy today.
The meeting, aimed at fostering trade relations between Mediterranean countries and the EU, will bring together trade ministers from the EU, Mediterranean countries and, for the first time, countries acceding to the EU.
These trade relation talks were launched in November 1995 between the EU and its 12 Mediterranean partners: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Cyprus and Malta.
The objective is to create of a free trade area (FTA) by 2010 through the conclusion of association agreements between the EU and its Mediterranean partners.
The meeting will also consider blueprints for opening trade in services and streamline customs procedures, discuss the on-going WTO talks under the Doha Development Agenda and examine means to enhance co-operation ahead of the upcoming WTO Ministerial in Cancun in September 2003.
Food and agricultural manufacturers form a vocal and powerful lobby group within each state, and will be watching the event with keen interest. The movement of livestock for example is a subject of strong contention, especially since the recent outbreak of bird 'flu in northern Europe.
Discussions will also focus on the issues surrounding a wider Europe and its impact on neighbouring Mediterranean countries.
The Euromed Trade Ministerial was preceded yesterday by an informal meeting of EU trade ministers.