Free trade pacts in SE Europe

ROME (AP) – Several countries from Southeastern Europe signed bilateral free trade agreements yesterday, part of efforts to speed their prospects of joining the European Union. At a meeting of finance ministers here, Serbia-Montenegro signed agreements with Albania, Bulgaria and Moldova. Albania and Moldova also signed an agreement, while Serbia-Montenegro and Romania said they would sign one by the end of the year. The meeting was hosted by the EU’s current Italian presidency. The agreements are the latest in a string of free trade pacts that have also involved Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and encompass a region with a population of 55 million. Sixteen such agreements are already functioning. The free trade agreements «are a success story for the countries of the region and a success story for the integration process in Europe,» Erhard Busek, head the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, said.