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Published: Sunday 15 April 2001

the European Union (eu), excluding France, has decided to end all barriers to trade with world's 48 poorest countries. The agreement on "almost every thing, but arms" aims to give to these countries duty and quota free access to eu markets. The agreement will take effect from March 5, 2001. The agreement, however, does not include some products like sugar, rice and bananas.

"The agreement marked the first eu trade policy that has been substantially modified in the interests of development," said Pascal Lamy, eu's trade commissioner. Though he admitted that the volume of imports from the poorest countries was significantly very small compared to eu's overall trade.

Lamy said the benefits of the plan should not be overshadowed by the exceptions related to bananas, sugar and rice. Full liberalisation for bananas will be start in 2006, followed by rice and sugar in 2009. To compensate for the delay on sugar and rice, developing countries will be given duty free import quotas, rising each year, from 2002.

Leif Pagrotsky, the Swedish trade minister, who brokered the deal, said that the policy has set a standard, which should force other industrialised countries to consider their policies too. Pagrotsky informed that Chile, New Zealand and Norway were prepared to follow eu's example, which would boost eu's power in urging other countries, such as the us, to change their policies in the interests of developing countries.

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