Israel and the European Union have initialed a new association accord that will give the Jewish state enhanced trading and political status among E.U. member states.
The accord, which was initialed here Sept. 28 by Israeli Ambassador to the European Union Mordechai Drori and by Eberhard Rhein, head of the European Union Mordechai Drori and by Eberhard Rhein, head of the European Commission’s Mediterranean department, capped a long and difficult period of negotiations that began in January 1994.
The accord, aimed at strengthening the links between Israel and the European Union, was scheduled to be formally signed at an Oct. 30 meeting of E.U. foreign ministers in Luxembourg that Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is expected to attend.
The new pact replaces a 1975 trade and cooperation accord between Israel and what was then known as the Common Market.
The accord will provide for expanded free trade between Israel and the 15 nations comprising the European economic bloc.
Israel hopes that the new accord will help lessen Israel’s growing trade imbalance with the European Union, which is Israel’s main trading partner.
The accord was reached in July after several E.U. states received assurances that Israeli imports would not adversely affect their domestic markets.
The new agreement – which will need to be approved by the Knesset and the parliaments of the E.U. member states before it becomes effective – would allow 90 percent of Israeli agricultural products to be exempt from E.U. tariffs, compared with the current 70 percent.
Along with its clauses relating to trade, the accord will grant Israel special status to participate in the European Union’s scientific and technological research and development projects.
According to diplomatic sources, this special status was granted to Israel in recognition of Israel’s advanced capability in the area of research and development.
Under the terms of the accord, Israel will contribute to the European Union’s research and development fund and will have seats on its various committees, but will not have voting rights.
When the accord is ratified, Israel will become the first non-E.U. member to get this special observer status within the research and development committees.
Negotiations on an updated accord between the two sides began in January 1994, after Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed the Declaration of Principles in Washington in September 1993.
Relations between Israel and the E.U. member states have improved since the Middle East peace process was first launched in Madrid in October 1991.
If approved, the Israel-E.U. accord would be the second association agreement between the European body and a Mediterranean country. This first was reached with Tunisia in July.
These efforts came about because of the European Union’s Euro-Mediterranean partnership, which envisions the establishment of a large free-trade zone between E.U. and Mediterranean countries.
Israel and 11 other non-E.U. Mediterranean countries were scheduled to participate in an important meeting with the 15 E.U. nations in Barcelona at the end of November to lay the cornerstone of the new Mediterranean strategy.