Algeria signs association agreement with EU

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afrol News, 23 April - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika yesterday signed an association agreement with the European Union at a ceremony held in Valencia, Spain. The Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement is to "introduce a new dimension in their bilateral relations by institutionalising closer co-operation in political, economic and social areas," according to an EU statement.

Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, hosting the ceremony, underlined that the Agreement was an important sign of Algeria's commitment to its ambitious programme of economic and social reforms which the EU supports. The Agreement "with its catalistic effect on economic transition and modernising the institutional and regulatory environment" would send a clear and positive message to the international, in particular the European, investment community about the opportunities of direct investment in Algeria.

Negotiations between the European Union and Algeria on a Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement started in 1997 and were concluded in 2001. The Agreement was initialled on 19 December 2001 in Brussels. It will enter into force after ratification by the European Parliament and the parliaments of Member States as well as Algeria. It is to replace the Co-operation Agreement of 1976.

- The Agreement will commit both sides to further liberalisation of bilateral trade in goods, services and capital, the EU explains in a communiqué. "It will help to ensure that the European and the Algerian business community and consumers benefit from further development of international trade and investment." 

The Agreement also lays an important foundation for economic liberalisation in Algeria. It binds Algeria to introducing modern legislation on competition and protection of intellectual property. It also provides for an exchange of concessions regarding trade in services. The initiative coincides with the preparation of a new ambitious programme of economic co-operation between Algeria and the EU to help the Algerian economy meet the challenges of the world market. 

The Agreement is also an important element towards the creation of a Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area by 2010. The European Community and its Member States have now concluded Association Agreements with eleven of the twelve Southern Mediterranean countries which are members of the so-called Barcelona-Process, which is to achieve closer economic ties with Europe's southern backyard. 

According to the EU, the association aims at providing an appropriate framework for political dialogue; promoting trade and establishing the conditions for the gradual liberalisation of trade in goods, services and capital; facilitating human exchanges, particularly in the context of administrative procedures; encouraging integration of the Maghreb countries as well as between those countries and the Community and its Member States; and promoting economic, social, cultural and financial cooperation.

Prime Minister Aznar and EU Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten however also pointed out that respect for human rights and democratic principles constituted an essential element of the agreement. "Fundamental principles such as those on human rights and democracy are an essential element of the Agreement," Patten said. 

The human rights group Amnesty International on Friday however stated its scepticism towards the Agreement. "At a time when unarmed demonstrators are being shot dead in the street by security forces as anti-government protests increase, the urgency for the potential in the Agreement's human rights clause to be unlocked cannot be overstated," Amnesty said releasing a new report; 'Algeria: When token gestures are not enough - human rights and the Algeria-EU accord.'

- If taken seriously, this human rights clause has the potential to be a tool for positive change in both Algeria and EU member states, the group said. It was however "deeply concerned about the context in which the Agreement is being signed." Although little international attention is paid to the ongoing suffering of the Algerian people, the bleak reality was "that a human rights crisis continues to blight Algeria. The number of people killed each month by the security forces, state-armed militias and armed groups in the context of the armed conflict remains shockingly high."

The EU has signed similar accords with six other countries of the region, none of them recognised as eager human rights defenders. These include Morocco, Tunisia, Palestine, Israel, Egypt and Lebanon. 

Sources: Based on EU, Amnesty and afrol archives

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