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(E) W. Balkans countries to join CEFTA, Croatia won its case
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  03/8/2006 | Politics | Unrated
(E) W. Balkans countries to join CEFTA, Croatia won its case


W. Balkans countries to join CEFTA, Croatia won its case


(Brussels, DTT-NET.COM)-The dispute between Croatia and the EU is expected to be resolved soon as all countries of the Western Balkans region are expected to join Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), a European body charged for regional cooperation said on Thursday.

Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe ( SP for SEE), said in a statement today that authorities of Western Balkan countries and Moldova together with existing members of CEFTA and Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania are to meet in April and give a political boost to the new upgraded CEFTA agreement.

“On 6 April, one of the Stability Pact’s long-standing objectives the creation of a single FTA in South Eastern Europe (SEE) –will receive a strong political boost. The Prime Ministers of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and representatives of UNMIK (representing Kosovo) will meet in
Bucharest at the invitation of the Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu and the Special
The Special Co-ordinator of the SP for SEE Erhard Busek to politically launch the negotiations to achieve the single FTA through the simultaneous enlargement and amendment of CEFTA, “ a statement of SP for SEE said.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, will also attend the meeting.

The interest shown by other countries of the region to join CEFTA followed strong lobbing of Croatia in the regional capitals, amid Zagreb refusal in January to the European Commission suggestion that Western Balkan countries should establish a new free trade zone, and incorporate 31 bilateral agreements into single one.

Croatia rejected the call of EC and argues that countries should join existing free trade agreement of CEFTA and avoid creating a new one.

The strong rejections by Croatia have made the EU’s executive body and some of its member states to show flexibility and consider the CEFTA as an option for Western Balkan nations.

EU officials have said that the 25 nation bloc has nothing against Western Balkans countries joining the CEFTA, but called for membership criteria to be softened as countries from the region are not members of World Trade Organisation.

Croatian government (which chairs the CEFTA currently) has also called on Ukraine and Moldova to join the organisation and both countries have positively responded to Zagreb’s offer.

Macedonia signed the membership agreement on 27 February.

CEFTA is a multilateral agreement for creation of a free - trade zone by a gradual removal of duties for industrial goods, liberalization of trade for agricultural products, and free competition on the territories of the countries - members.

As Bulgaria and Romania are to join the EU in January next year or at latest in January 2008, they are to walk out of the trade network with Balkan region and also from CEFTA.

Earlier members of the organisation: Poland; Czech Republic, Slovakia; Hungary and Slovenia left as they joined the EU in May 2004.

Current discussions between EC, SP for SEE and countries are focused on the changes necessary to be made at CEFTA related to accession of W. Balkans countries.

“CEFTA membership originally stipulated that a member of CEFTA has to be a member of the World Trade Organisation and that it must have institutionalised relations with the EU. This would have ruled out several SEE countries/territories. This issue was resolved following the CEFTA meeting of Prime Ministers in November last year. Membership criteria are now inclusive but still demand high standards of trade policy.” reads the statement of SP for SEE.

It also said that the procedures required to accede to CEFTA must be changed (simplify the procedures) so that there could be a simultaneous group enlargement and immediate amendment of the text in the course of 2006 (to meet the ministerial request).

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