22 November 2012

Tunisia Gains EU 'Advanced Status'

Tunis — Tunisia's status of privileged partner of the European Union will open up new horizons for bilateral economic ties.

Tunisia on Monday (November 19th) became a "privileged partner" of the European Union. The accord was reached during the 9th EU-Tunisia Association Council session in Brussels.

It is an historic event which will deepen the desired partnership between the two sides, Secretary of State in charge of European Affairs Touhami Abdouli said at a press conference on November 21st.

The new status will enable Tunisia to enhance other regional and international partnerships, especially on the Maghreb, Arab and Islamic levels, Abdouli added.

It embodies the EU member-states' confidence in the country's democratic transition and attests to the sound political, economic and social conditions in Tunisia, he concluded.

In his turn, Minister of Investment and International Co-operation Riadh Bettaieb said that the agreement required Tunisia to do comprehensive rehabilitation of all political, economic, financial, social, cultural and legislative areas during the proposed period.

The deal is based on the four-year action plan, which starts next year.

The 27-member bloc will provide financial, technical and advisory support for these comprehensive reforms, Bettaieb said. It will later be capped with signing "a free exchange agreement" as a basis for privileged partnership that would enable Tunisia to integrate both economically and socially in the EU, he added.

The EU has boosted its financial support for Tunisia to about 220 million euros this year, but Tunisia hopes to see this assistance doubled to 400 million euros next year, according to Bettaieb.

The privileged partner status is an honorary status granted by the EU to non-member states whereby it gives trade privileges and activates economic dealings with them, commented Fatma Ouesleti, Director of the Tunisian Trade Ministry's European Co-operation Department.

She added that the agreement would give Tunisian exports priority in European markets and help Tunisia receive low-interest loans. Meanwhile, Tunisia would give the EU exports priority in its markets.

For its part, the European side expressed hope about launching agricultural trade liberalisation talks, as well as negotiations about the liberalisation of air transport in order to revitalise Tunisia's tourist sector.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Markoulli, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, underlined that Tunisia needs to consolidate the state of law, protect human rights and basic freedoms, and give civil society its due standing.

Some opposition parties, however, denounced the deal, saying that it consolidates Tunisia's dependency on Europe.

Hundreds of supporters of the Popular Front for the Realisation of Revolutionary Goals on Tuesday demonstrated against the agreement.

Communist Labour Party chief Hamma Hammami said that the privileged partner agreement would negatively reflect on the Tunisian economy, agriculture and industry sectors.

Touhami reassured the sceptics, describing the Tunisian-European relations as "complementary and based on the participatory and egalitarian principle". The European Union "does not issue orders to Tunisia, which engages in negotiations based on its interests", he said.

Tunisia had signed a partnership agreement with the EU in 1995 and has been trying to win the advanced partner status since then.

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