Experts debate Euro-Med free trade zone

Environmental groups, parliamentarians, renew push for full sustainability assessment

MEPs and environmental groups have issued renewed calls for plans to create a free trade zone between the EU and countries on the southern coast of the Mediterranean to be subjected to a full sustainability assessment. The demands were made at a conference held in the European Parliament on Monday, organised by NGO Friends of the Earth (FoE) and Globe, a network of pro-environment parliamentarians.

Under the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership process, the EU and 12 non-EU Mediterranean countries are working towards establishment of a regional free trade zone by 2010. NGOs fear that the process will damage fragile Mediterranean environments. At Monday's meeting they complained of inaction on the part of the European Commission despite earlier commitments to undertake a formal sustainability assessment.

According to a study presented at the conference by FoE Middle East, trade liberalisation could have a number of detrimental effects, including increased pressure on scarce water resources and probable increases in transport and industrial pollution. The researchers stressed that southern Mediterranean countries were not in a position to take advantage of environmental opportunities such as organic farming and ecolabelling due to a lack of infrastructure and institutional support. FoE called on the Euro-Med process to support these aspects.

Participants in the conference - including officials from the European Commission - "committed themselves to closely monitor the social and environmental impacts of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership," according to a statement released by FoE. FoE Middle East added a demand for the Partnership to create a new Euro-Med Sustainability Commission to ensure that the eventual free trade zone supported sustainable development.

Follow Up:
Friends of the Earth Europe, tel: +32 2 542 0180.

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