Brussels, 24 February 2012 - EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht will travel to Moldova and Georgia on 27 and 28 February respectively to launch negotiations on Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTA) between the EU and the two countries.

"The free trade area will be a key vehicle to advance Moldova's and Georgia's trade and economic ties with the EU", said Commissioner De Gucht. "I am confident that these negotiations will move ahead swiftly and pave the way to closer economic ties with the EU. The opening of negotiations confirms the EU's commitment to deepen progressive economic integration and political association with our Eastern Partners."

Together with the countries' political leaders, Commissioner De Gucht will launch the free trade area negotiations and confirm the parameters within which the lead negotiators will operate. Meetings in Moldova are scheduled with Acting President Marian Lupu and Prime Minister Vladimir Filat. In Georgia, Commissioner De Gucht will meet Prime Minister Nika Gilauri.

The Commissioner's visit takes place ahead of the first negotiation rounds scheduled for 19-23 March (Moldova) and 26-30 March 2012 (Georgia), and follows the first technical preparatory meetings between the parties, which took place on 18 January (Moldova) and 31 January 2012 (Georgia).

The Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas will be part of the Association Agreements currently being negotiated with Georgia and Moldova, which have the overall objective to significantly deepen political association and economic integration with these Eastern Partner countries.

In the framework of the Eastern Partnership, the EU has been negotiating since 2010 Association Agreements with Georgia and Moldova. Free trade areas will become an integral part of these Agreements, aiming to strengthen the export and investment performance of both countries and facilitate their progressive integration with the EU's Internal Market of 500 million consumers.

The 'deep and comprehensive' trade areas (DCFTA) are very ambitious in nature, aiming to tackle trade obstacles at the borders and eliminating those behind the border. One objective is to bring legislations of our trade partners closer together with EU legislation in trade-related areas ('deep'). In addition, the scope of the agreements is very broad, addressing matters that are fundamental to a modern, transparent and predictable trade and investment regime, such as competition, government procurement and intellectual property rights ('comprehensive').

Both countries currently enjoy preferential access to the EU market through autonomous lower import duties through the Generalised System of Preferences, with further incentives for good governance ("GSP+" for Georgia) and Autonomous Trade Preferences (Moldova). The future trade agreements will extend significantly beyond the scope of current cooperation, governed by the Partnership and Cooperation Agreements, in force since July 1998 (Moldova) and July 1999 (Georgia).

The decision to launch DCFTA negotiations was endorsed by the Council's Trade Policy Committee in December 2011, after Georgia and Moldova had conducted substantial reforms in key trade and investment-related regulatory areas, notably in the fields of technical regulations, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, protection of intellectual property rights and competition rules. The EU assisted both countries in this process, providing technical assistance in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Partnership Instrument and of the Comprehensive Institution Building programme, as well as with the support of EU Member States.

Current trade relations
The EU is Georgia's and Moldova's first trading partner. Bilateral trade in goods amounted to €2.2 billion with Georgia and €2.7 billion with Moldova in 2011.

Due to the unilateral trade preferences granted to both countries by the EU, existing import duties are already very low, so the benefits of the future trade agreement lie predominantly "behind the border", through regulatory reforms in Moldova and Georgia.

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