Balkan Countries To Sign Expanded Free Trade Agreement

Balkan leaders meeting in Romania were expected to sign an expanded free trade agreement Tuesday that aims to help nations hoping to join the European Union to reform their economies. 

The pact, which currently groups Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Macedonia and is known as the Central European Free Trade Agreement, or CEFTA, will be expanded to include Albania, Bosnia, Moldova, Serbia, Montenegro and the U.N.-administered Kosovo province of Serbia. 

The EU has urged Southeast European countries to sign on to the deal as a way to boost businesses in the region, increase exports and bring more foreign investment. 

CEFTA was set in the early 1990s by Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic as they prepared for EU membership, as a tool to liberalize trade and help countries reform their economies and prepare for EU membership. The five left the pact in 2004 after they became EU members, and Romania and Bulgaria will also leave CEFTA when they join the EU in January. 

Despite its upcoming departure from CEFTA, Romania proposed expanding the pact to include more countries and new areas such as services, public acquisitions, competition and state aid and intellectual property rights. 

“Romania is interested for this region to prosper economically,” Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu said. He added that as an upcoming EU member, Romania also wanted to show that it can contribute to the bloc’s security and prosperity by helping consolidate economic and political ties in the Balkans. 

The agreement to be signed Tuesday in Bucharest replaces 32 bilateral and other deals. It is expected to become effective by May 2007 after ratification by member states. 
Source: AP

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