The European Union has agreed to grant duty-free and quota-free market access to some 80 countries from the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) areas. There is still much debate on both sides of the accord, but EU leaders are hailing it as important progress. Teri Schultz has more from Brussels.
With the new market access offer, the European Union and the ACP - African, Caribbean and Pacific - group have reached one step closer to a trade deal before the current accord expires at year's end.
EU development ministers meeting in Brussels Tuesday confirmed a proposal made last month by the European Commission that would drop tariffs and quotas on ACP goods once a new trade agreement is signed.
German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, who chaired the meeting, said this decision will have a positive impact on other development issues.
"We'll be freeing up ACP access to our markets to a very great extent," saidHeidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul. "I think this is a good signal."
There will be special treatment for products considered highly sensitive - so far that includes sugar and rice - which will have their tariffs scaled back gradually to give industries more time to adjust.
For example, sugar brought into the EU would have its import duties phased out by the year 2015 The transition period for rice has not yet been established. Bananas are widely expected to join that list but ministers put off that decision for now.
Eventually the EU wants reciprocal benefits to be in place for European goods in African markets, but Minister Wieczorek-Zeul told ACP countries they should not be intimidated by this.
"We have no designs on ACP markets in light of the development requirements of ACP countries," she said. "There will be the need for flexibility and ACP countries may have waivers, safeguard measures and particular periods of time of transitional periods for particularly sensitive products."
She noted that some countries' transition periods may last up to 25 years!
EU and ACP leaders meet again in Brussels on May 25 to try to move forward on the overarching trade deal.