The analysis forming the basis for this report has been an attempt to identify the present situation of the fish trade relationship existing among countries of the North African Mediterranean area, and their trade exchanges with EU neighbours.
The overview of existing trade agreements among Algeria, Egypt, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Morocco and Tunisia and between them and the European Union has shown that there has emerged a clear effort towards achieving stronger links in the area.
Even if in some cases the trade agreements among countries of the Arab area - to which the countries addressed in this report belong - are more religious and political than commercial, it can be asserted that much more can be achieved, on the one hand by the implementation of bilateral free-trade agreements, and, on the other hand, by ratification of a multilateral agreement (GAFTA).
Regarding intra-area fish trade, currently it is negligible, reflecting high barriers to intra-area trade hindering the development of overall exchange trade within the Arab region. The barriers can be summarized, in a few words, as a lack of efficient means of transport and of regular shipping and air freight facilities, aggravated by insufficient transport infrastructure from coastal sites to inland areas. Trade problems are exacerbated by the absence of unified criteria and standards for quality control for fish and fishery products.
In spite of this, the analysis of the fish trade relations of North African Mediterranean countries with the EU gives the image of a partnership characterized by a continuous and increasing exchange trade. Since the early 1970s, when the European Community signed cooperation agreements with some countries of the Arab area, this process has continued, and been strengthened by the development of Euro-Mediterranean Partnership in the mid-1990s. The final aim of this initiative, involving all EU Members and a large part of the Mediterranean countries, is the creation of a great Euro-Mediterranean free-trade area by 2010. To this end, complete integration among Mediterranean Partners is a sine qua non.
However, in some cases it is difficult for developing countries, as the North African Mediterranean countries are, to enter the European fish market because of the complex and numerous regulations concerning quality and safety of foodstuffs. As a result, such regulations are considered as new barriers to trade. To overcome this kind of obstacle, an effort is needed at all levels by the Arab countries to upgrade national fish inspection and quality control systems. At the same time, stronger collaboration with European countries on equitable terms might be one of the ways to overcome such problems and to make trade relationships in the Euro-Mediterranean area stronger and more efficient than currently is the case.