MEPs call for free trade area with Arab spring countries
By Lénaïc Vaudin d’Imécourt | Wednesday 28 March 2012
The European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade (INTA) urges the EU to move forward on enhancing trade relations with Mediterranean countries following the Arab spring. In a report it adopted on 27 March, entitled ‘Trade for change: EU trade and investment strategy for the Southern Mediterranean following the Arab spring revolutions’, MEPs underlined the importance of the Southern Mediterranean countries (SMCs) and emphasised the economic opportunities that were created by the political changes in the region.
“Since the fall of the [Berlin] Wall, the EU has not seen at its borders a political transformation as important as the Arab spring,” rapporteur Niccolo Rinaldi (ALDE, Italy) noted. “The opportunity must be seized to put the project of a Euro-Mediterranean free trade zone back on track,” he added. The Barcelona declaration of 1995 had planned the implementation of said free trade area by 2010, “yet it failed to materialise”. In the draft report, MEPs called on all the partners to “use the momentum created by the Arab spring to push forward with the necessary reforms for the creation of a functioning and fully fledged free trade area,” but they also underlined that these agreements should not be to the detriment of regional integration.
A special focus was given to the role of small and medium-sized enterprises in the draft report, which notes that they provide as much as 30% of employment in some countries of the region. MEPs voiced their concerns over the high number of unregistered SMEs operating on the “black market” and called on the EU to implement a commercial strategy to “incentivise unregistered businesses to legitimise their status”. The percentage of informal employment (excluding agriculture) in certain SMCs could be as high as 70%, according to the report. “For the benefit of a free trade zone to affect the greatest numbers, it is imperative that concrete actions are undertaken to promote SMEs, which are the motor of local economy,” said Rinaldi. He believes that this “requires the EU’s enhanced technical assistance to adapt production to European standards, an EIB [European Investment Bank] support for microcredit programs, a focus on SME financing by the FEMIP [Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership], the fastest possible ratification of the extension of the EBRD [European Bank for Reconstruction and Development] mandate […] and more visa facilities for students and business leaders”. All those points were indorsed by the members of the INTA committee.
MORE FOR MORE CRITERIA
MEPs also voiced their concern over the lack of transparency of the External Action Service (EAS), which has not yet made public the details of the ‘more for more’ criteria that are supposed to determine whether a country is eligible for a free trade agreement with the EU. “It is high time the high representative makes public the detailed criteria necessary to advance the situation,” Rinaldi said.