European agricultural commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel told the sixth meeting of the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM) that the European Union remained strongly committed to the trade within the region, and would push for further cooperation.
"Our Mediterranean partners are more than just trade partners; you are also valued political partners in the search for common solutions to more general common challenges that we face," she told delegates.
"We have had this very much in mind even while we have been working hard to bring success to the Doha Round of WTO talks. But whatever happens in the Doha Round, you can rely on us to give the Euro-Mediterranean relationship all the attention that it deserves."
Boel repeated that the EU was prepared to open most of its agricultural markets to its Mediterranean partners relatively quickly, while in return accepting a less rapid opening of markets. Furthermore, under the Barcelona Declaration of 1995, the EU has promised to liberalise trade with its Mediterranean partners by 2010.
She also went on to say that there were many areas in which useful work could be done to complement the liberalisation of agricultural trade around the Mediterranean.
"First, we will continue to assist our Mediterranean partners to adapt to our sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards. Our consumers demand guarantees that all the food they eat meets the highest safety standards.
"This means that our SPS standards are not open to negotiation, and they apply in full to all trade: preferential as well as non-preferential."
Boel also wants to see work done on appropriate labelling. She pointed out that this approach has borne fruit in the European Union, in particular through the systems of Protected Geographical Indications, Protected Designations of Origin and Traditional Specialities Guaranteed.
"I believe this approach could also be of benefit to other producers around the Mediterranean. This was stated clearly in the conclusions to the 2003 Euro-Mediterranean Conference held in Venice."
Boel also wants to see improved product marketing. One possible general marketing project would be the promotion of the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, which consumers increasingly associated with having significant health benefits.
The speech was therefore designed not only to appease those who felt that EU-Med progress has been too slow, but to underline the fact that the EU sees real benefit in closer agricultural trade with the countries of the Mediterranean.
"The European Union is eager to step up efforts in areas of the Euro-Mediterranean relationship where progress has been slow," she said. "We hope you feel the same way."