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Ecuador, EU reach long-delayed trade pact

Ecuador, the world's top banana exporter, and the European Union reached a long-delayed trade agreement, the Ecuadorian Minister of Trade Francisco Rivadeneira said on Thursday.

BRUSSELS: Ecuador, the world's top banana exporter, and the European Union reached a long-delayed trade agreement, the Ecuadorian Minister of Trade Francisco Rivadeneira said on Thursday.

"Ecuador has completed negotiations with the European Union to join the Multilateral Trade Agreement", Rivadeneira told reporters in Brussels, adding it was the result of an "effort of about four years."

The pact was initially meant to be regional, but leftist Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa is a staunch opponent of free trade and broke off talks in 2009 leaving Peru and Colombia to sign their own deals with the EU in 2012. Correa believes that free trade pacts undermine developing countries and harm the development of local industry.

However Correa has also sought ways to diversify the oil-dependent economy in Ecuador, a country of some 16 million people and the smallest member of OPEC. He promised to boost trade while campaigning in elections last year.

Once talks with EU resumed in January, the main sticking point became bananas, the main non-oil export product of the South American country and the EU's top provider. Minister Rivadeneira said the EU, a market of 500 million people, had received safeguards it would not be swamped by Ecuadorian bananas, with the agreement of a "trigger" tariff once a certain level of imports was reached.

Under the terms of the agreement, the minister said Ecuador will also receive zero-duty access to the EU market for its industrial goods, which Quito hopes to use to boost its agro-industrial sector. In return, the EU has sought better access to Ecuador public procurements and requested that the country honour commitments on intellectual property as set by the World Trade Organization.

"We opened our market in the areas we believe there is a need for European services," the minister said, without providing further details of the deal.

According to the European Commission data, EU imports from Ecuador in 2013 reached 2.6 billion euros (US$3.5 billion) and exports totalled 2.3 billion euros.

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