EU signs trade deals with Peru and Colombia
The European Union has initialed free trade agreements (FTAs) with Peru and Colombia, opening up trade and investment and saving an estimated half a billion euros in duties.
Wednesday's (13 April) signing in Brussels comes roughly one year after negotiations between the two South American states and the EU were concluded, talks which drew attention to violence in Colombia and saw Ecuador leave the negotiating table.
EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht welcomed the "milestone" agreement, saying it created a "foothold for European business in the area and an anchor for structural reforms in the countries concerned."
Once fully implemented, the deal will eliminate tariffs in all industrial and fisheries products, increase market access for agricultural products and widen access to public procurement, services and investment markets, among other measures.
EU member states and the European Parliament must now ratify the FTAs, with some MEPs previously expressing concern over the high number of trade union deaths in Colombia, roughly 60 percent of the world total.
The commission has stressed that the protection of human rights and the rule of law, as well as commitments to effectively implement international conventions on labour rights and environmental protection, are part of the deal.
Attending the signing in Brussels, Colombian trade minister Minister Sergio Diaz-Granados Guida said greater trade flows between the two sides would help Bogota stamp out violence and drug trafficking.
"This FTA will help us progress and leave behind those problems," he told journalists. "Economic growth based on free trade helps the stability and development of our peoples."
In Peru, recent first round presidential elections have set the scene for a second round face-off this June between left-wing Ollanta Humala and the conservative Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori who is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence.
Some voices within the Peruvian business community have expressed concern that an eventual Humala victory could hurt the country's booming economy, but the EU's De Gucht said the election outcome would have little impact on the FTA.
"This is an agreement which is finished ... It's standard international practice that once a negotiation is completed you don't change it [just] because there is a change of government," he said.
The EU also said the door was open for other countries in the region to strike similar trade agreements, after earlier dialogues with Bolivia and Ecuador hit the buffers.
[Source: By Andrew Willis, Euobserver, Brussels, 14Apr11]
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