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New EU Trade Pact Gives Duty Free Access to Six African Nations

After 12 years of talks, the European Union and six southern African countries will sign a trade agreement Friday that will greatly increase market access.

Under the Economic Partnership Agreement, products from Bostwana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland will have duty- and quota-free access to the EU, Bloomberg reported. South Africa, the sixth in the agreement, will enjoy greater market access beyond the present preferential trade pact.

The new deal, which will be open-ended and reviewed every five years, was held up for more than a decade because of differences concerning market access for agricultural products, not to mention EU economies falling into rough times and the looming question of whether the U.K. will leave the EU.

But that aside, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom called the deal the best one Africa has scored yet.

“It opens up fully the EU market for all goods and commodities on an asymmetric basis,” Malmstrom said, according to Bloomberg. “It contains safeguards for vulnerable sectors and is a long-term cooperation on economic development. More trade is better but ours is the most advantageous [deal].”

The African nations that are part of the new pact will have access to the EU’s 100 million euro ($113 million) fund for economic integration and a 32 million euro ($36 million) trade facility to aid with upping capacity and export quality.

Rules of origin will be relaxed too, Bloomberg reported, letting African member countries import raw materials from other areas and process and export them under the agreement’s terms.

Africa has been a region of interest in recent years as companies seek more options for low cost sourcing, and the U.S. has also supported increasing trade there to aid in development.

Last year the U.S. renewed the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) for 10 years, which provides duty-free access to goods originating in eligible sub-Saharan African countries (there are 39 eligible though fewer—24—are eligible for apparel benefits).