The Agadir Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) has overcome some initial obstacles to increase trade among Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Jordan, but further success hinges on intellectual property rights (IPR), according to the proceedings of a workshop held in Tunis.
“Industrial intellectual property and patents are … central to ensuring trade,” the head of Tunisia’s National Institute for Standardisation and Industrial Property, Aymen Mekki told workshop experts from AFTA member states and the European Union.
AFTA, which Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan signed in Agadir in 2004 with EU support, aims to boost the integration of southern Mediterranean countries into the European policy sphere. The agreement took effect in January 2007, but by 2008, member countries were still mulling arbitration to end long-standing trade disputes. Nevertheless, workshop presenters said AFTA had enabled the signatories to increase trade among themselves by 45%.
Still Intellectual Property Rights remain a pan-Maghreb concern. A 2008 report by Tunisia’s Trade Ministry, for example, notes 54 complaints in a single year by Tunisian industrialists claiming damage due to counterfeiting of goods, mainly food, cleaning supplies and cosmetics. And IPR violations remain a regional plague affecting Algeria and other countries.
“Protection of intellectual property is typically of the utmost importance,” Mekki said at the workshop, which was organised by Tunisia’s Trade Ministry and a body set up to boost AFTA’s implementation, the Agadir Technical Unit (ATU), in collaboration with European and Maghreb experts.
“[AFTA] can’t be developed unless all parties involved are assured that their respective rights are protected, especially given that the agreement includes the Agadir member states on the one hand and the EU states on the other,” added Mekki.