CAIRO (AFP) – Egypt and Turkey signed a free trade agreement yesterday aimed at tripling the volume of annual trade between the two countries over three years to $3 billion. Foreign trade ministers from the two countries signed the deal – which comes after nearly 10 years of marathon discussions – in the presence of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Necdet Sezer. «We have today witnessed the signing of a free trade agreement between the two countries that opens new horizons for consolidating bilateral trade and increases investments in joint projects,» Mubarak said after the signing. The agreement removes customs tariffs on certain Egyptian products entering Turkey and vice versa and lowers tariffs on others. Mubarak stressed that the deal offers preferential trade status in various fields, including industry, agriculture, and agricultural products. «It will open a new door and lend a big support for economic and trade activities between the two countries,» Sezer agreed. «We aspire to enhance cooperation in different fields,» he added. Egyptian and Turkish officials predicted that the agreement would increase the volume of bilateral trade, which currently hovers at around a billion dollars annually. Sezer pointed out that the volume of bilateral trade already increase by 60 percent this year. Cairo is optimistic the agreement will improve its access to Turkish markets, especially in the area of consumer and industrial exports such as cement, iron, medical equipment and ceramics. «The agreement offers a number of Egyptian industrial products preferential status in Turkish markets,» Egyptian Foreign Trade Minister Rashid Mohammed Rashid told reporters on the eve of the signing ceremony. Turkey’s Foreign Trade Minister Kursad Tuzmen forecast that the deal would also help boost bilateral ties and considerably increase his country’s investments in Egypt, which stand at around $600 million annually. Tuzmen said the agreement will enable that to jump to an estimated $2 billion. Last year, TAV, a unit of Turkey’s Akfen Holding AS, was awarded a $350 million contract to build a third terminal at Cairo airport. Plans are already under way to establish a Turkish bank in Egypt that will draw shareholders from the country’s public banks, Tuzmen said. Private Turkish banks will also open offices in Egypt, he added. Turkish investors also have their eyes set on Egypt’s textile industry. Under the agreement, Turkey will open up its markets to Egyptian customs-free products immediately, while Egypt will lift trade barriers gradually over a 16-year period, Rashid explained. It also allows Egypt better access to markets of countries in the region with which Turkey has free-trade agreements such as Israel, Jordan, Syria, Tunisia and Morocco, as well as European markets. The two countries signed the deal after talks between Mubarak and Sezer covering bilateral and international issues.