The European Commission has agreed to extend a preferential trade pact between the 27-country European Union and seven Western Balkan nations for another five years, the EU executive said on Monday.
The agreement, first signed in 2000, allows nearly all exports from the Western Balkans to enter the EU without customs duties or limits on quantity.
Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia benefit from the pact as participants in the EU Stabilisation and Association process, which is intended to ensure peace and stability in the region.
"Together with the bilateral agreements in place, these trade preferences support economic integration with the EU and hence foster political stability and economic progress in the entire region," the commission said in a statement.
The agreement, previously renewed in 2005, is due to expire in December. The new deadl would come into force in January though it must still be formally approved by EU ministers and the European Parliament.
Halting it could hurt the economies of the Western Balkans and have repercussions on domestic reforms, said the commission, which is in charge of EU trade policy.
The EU is the region's top trading partner, exporting 32.5 billion euros ($44.3 billion) of goods to the Western Balkans in 2008 and importing 14 billion euros' worth in the same period.
The EU's imports from the region include manufactured goods, machinery, transport equipment, live animals, chemicals and related products.
Only wine, baby beef and certain fisheries products face preferential tariff quotas under the pact, the Commission said.
ReutersLast Mod: 23 Şubat 2010, 08:19