European Commissioner responsible for trade Karel de Gucht said on Thursday that the EU will be asking US and Canada to open their markets to European products which have been hit by a Russian embargo.
He was replying to a question on the matter during an event in Filoxenia conference centre, in Nicosia on the Union`s trade policy.
On his part, Cypriot Minister of Energy, Commerce, Industry and Tourism Yiorgos Lakkotrypis, who also addressed the event, urged “the Commission to actively engage in proposing appropriate measures towards supporting the affected exporters”.
De Gucht noted that he will be visiting the US next Monday and he will be asking the EU`s transatlantic partner to open their markets for European foods and vegetables. He also said that he will also be asking Canada to do the same, once an agreement is announced between EU and Canada on September 26.
He expressed the hope that “they will be able to show solidarity in that respect”, noting that the US and Canada markets are bigger than the Russian market.
Replying to a question on possible new sanctions the EU is preparing against Russia, he acknowledged that “possible packages of sanctions” are being prepared but did not wish to give any details.
In his speech the European Commissioner was clear that “he strongly” supports the targeted sanctions that the EU has put in place as regards Russia, adding however that he understands the implications for some in Cyprus and in other parts of the EU.
“To offset the problems for European food producers caused by Russia`s recent restrictions, we are working to look at new markets as a first step and intend to use emergency compensation where this does not work out”, he promised.
He referred to efforts for extending the EU`s agreement with Morocco to cover issues like services and investment and a mandate to do the same with Jordan, Tunisia and Egypt. He also said the EU have been able “to move forward with our market opening strategy in relation to Georgia and Moldova and that “after long delays our agreement with Ukraine, an important market for some Cypriot industries, should also enter into force soon”.
However, he pointed out, “one thing the current difficulties also show us is that there will always be a market in the EU for energy from stable sources”. If, as is hoped, he said, “Cyprus is able to develop natural gas production, there will certainly be a market in Europe”.
“Reunifying the island would in this respect, as in many others by the way, be most welcome”, he added.
De Gucht spoke of the resilience of the economy of Cyprus and of the need for the Mediterranean island “to stabilise the economic environment by seeing the adjustment programme through”.
Highlighting Cyprus` strengths that it can build on, such its expertise, its strategic location and the potential exploitation of its natural resources, he stressed that “to take full advantage of these and other strengths, Cyprus needs the right climate for growth”.
In his address the Cypriot Minister referred to the recent Russian ban on agrifood exports, noting that it “is negatively influencing Cyprus exporters, with citrus fruit, fish and vegetables being the products most seriously affected”.
“The impact of the Russian ban is being felt more strongly in Cyprus because, in relative terms, exports to Russia represent a higher percentage than in other member states”, he said.
He urged “the Commission to actively engage in proposing appropriate measures towards supporting the affected exporters”.
Referring to the discovery of natural gas within Cyprus` Exclusive Economic Zone he said that “our efforts for monetizing the natural gas resources in our EEZ are fully aligned with EU’s pressing priorities for strengthening its security of energy supply”.
“Cyprus, as well as the wider Eastern Mediterranean region, can play a vital role and can constitute an additional source and route of natural gas supply for the EU”, he stressed.
Highlighting the fact that more than 99% of Cyprus’ companies, and the vast majority of European ones, are SMEs, Lakkotrypis said that “the Union’s common commercial policy should attribute great importance in creating new opportunities for these companies”.
Moreover, he added, “SMEs also face disproportionately higher trade barriers than larger companies which are difficult to overcome”.
“We therefore support the Commission’s intention to pay explicit attention to the needs of SMEs in the ongoing trade negotiations”, he noted.
On his part honorary President of Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) and a member of the European Economic and Social Committee Manthos Mavrommatis expressed the point of view that “Cyprus has everything to gain form the EU’s continuing efforts to open, negotiate and conclude major Free Trade Agreements which is considered the most important challenge for EU Trade Policy in the near future”.
It’s a small country, he explained, “dependent on trade where the majority of its trading volume is either directly traded with the EU or is generated through EU trading partners taking advantage of its competencies as a transit point for exports”.
According to Mavrommatis the Cypriot economy is so open that imports and exports of goods and services combined represented for many years more than 100% of GDP, although, recently this percentage has declined to around 90%.
This, he said, “certainly contrasts with the situation in the bigger EU economies where this percentage is much lower”.
He also noted that in 2010, SMEs’ export and import shares accounted for almost three-quarters of the total volumes of trade between Cyprus and the EU.
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