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The Memorandum on Trade Liberalisation was signed by Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Romania and Bulgaria. Moldova, which became the Stability Pact's eighth beneficiary member the next day, declared its willingness to sign up later. The other countries are meant to negotiate a network of bilateral trade agreements, aimed at making at least 90% of trade (by value) within the region tariff-free by the end of 2002. Many tariffs will be removed immediately on the entry into force of the agreements, while those in certain sensitive sectors will be phased out over a six year period. Some of the bilateral deals have already been done, including one between Bulgaria and Romania in the context of free trade arrangements between European Union accession countries.There are also provisions in the Memorandum for the elimination of non-tariff barriers to trade. The Stability Pact, European Commission, World Bank and World Trade Organisation are all meant to have a hand in assisting and monitoring the implementation of the agreements. According to Bodo Hombach, the Pact's Co-ordinator, an important aim of trade liberalisation in the region is to attract outside investment by creating a single market of 55 million people.Pascal Lamy, the European Trade Commissioner, also attended the signing ceremony and praised the Balkan countries' commitment to freeing trade. Figures released by the European Commission show that the EU is the region's biggest trade partner, taking 58.8% of its exports last year. This rose from 52.3% in 1993.Refugees.The Agenda for Regional Action, as the refugee return document is officially called, is described by the Pact as a roadmap to allow an estimated one million displaced people to return to their pre-war homes or be fully integrated into the areas where they are now settled over the next two to three years. The Agenda foresees changes in property legislation and other legal reforms, improved housing provision and management, recognition of the social rights of refugees, humanitarian aid and demining. An important carrot for the three governments to adopt this plan is the fact that they hope it will help attract foreign financial support for it. About half of the million displaced people are Bosnians forced to move within their own country to areas controlled by their own ethnic group. A further 400,000 are Serbs driven out of Croatia and Bosnia. According to pact officials, the hope is to work out a similar plan for the 220,000 Serbs who fled from Kosovo in 1999.The Regional Table.All of the Stability Pact's members were represented at the Regional Table. As well as the beneficiaries, they include the EU Member States, the US, Canada, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, Hungary and Russia, as well as international organisations including the European Commission. Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin addressed the Table, on the occasion of his country being accepted as a member. The meeting's purpose is to plan the next stage of the Pact's co-ordination of regional projects, in the context of Yugoslavia's democratisation and the end of the initial Quick Start Programme, in March 2001. The strategy adopted is very close to that proposed by Mr Hombach at the end of the Quick Start programme, and largely backed up by EU foreign ministers on June 11.Key elements are the emphasis on integrating the region into Euro-Atlantic structures and on the prevention of the causes of conflict. This reflects the progress made in the Stabilisation and Association Process, which is linking the western Balkans to the EU, and continuing instability and violence. Mr Hombach stressed that the Pact is not involved in the diplomatic resolution of conflicts, but works over the longer term to reduce tensions that contribute to political unrest through practical integration. "Let's be useful to one another first, and then we can learn to love one another", he said. Despite this, the Table discussed the current crises and tensions in Macedonia, Kosovo, and southern Serbia. The Council of Europe Development Bank also joined the Pact at this session.More detailed discussion of the path ahead for the Pact will take place at a Regional Conference on Assistance and Reforms in Bucharest on October 26-27. Mr Hombach said this would not be a classical funding conference, like that which raised the money for Quick Start in March 2000. He intends, as an, he said "to knock on the door of finance ministries" to raise the necessary cash beforehand and leave the meeting itself for planning rather than fundraising. He added that the planning would involve the presentation of reports from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on the requirements for renovating and integrating regional energy, transport and water infrastructures. Mr Hombach refused to say how much money he would look for, saying that this would be announced at the conference. More private sector participation was also hoped for, which would in turn, he hoped, be encouraged by more investment credits and loan guarantees from governments.
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Publication:European Report
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EU
Date:Jun 30, 2001

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