Tunisia PM reassures farmers over EU trade deal

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Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said Sunday that his government would not sign any free trade agreement with the European Union that conflicts with the interests of the North African country’s farmers.

Tunisia and the EU are in the final phase of negotiations on a comprehensive free trade agreement to be signed at the end of 2019.

Tunisian NGOs, trade unions, elected officials, and economists have all voiced concerns about the accord, criticizing its forced liberalization of the country’s economy.

“Any agreement will have to take into account the difference in development between the two parties... and be accompanied by a set of measures” for agriculture and fishing, Chahed said as Tunisia marked National Agriculture Day.

Tunisian agriculture needs to be developed “so that it reaches a level allowing it to face the competition,” he added.

His office has discussed measures to improve access to water and to better reward wheat and milk producers.

Critics of the deal fear it could worsen Tunisia’s gaping trade and tax deficits and give an unfair advantage to European agricultural and industrial firms.

The deal, which would strengthen an association agreement in place since 1995, has been under negotiation since 2015.

It aims to better integrate the Tunisian economy with that of Europe, in particularly by liberalizing trade in services and easing customs barriers.