Eu/south Caucasus : Association Talks Open with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia

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The EU has launched association agreement negotiations with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. The first round of talks with Georgia was held on 15 July, in the Black Sea town of Batumi, in the presence of Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign affairs chief, who flew in for a two-day visit, and the country's President, Mikheil Saakashvili. On the same day, the EU announced the launch of association talks with the two other South Caucasus countries. The first rounds of talks with Armenia and Azerbaijan will take place on 16 and 19 July, respectively.

"Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have shown a clear ambition to intensify their relationships with the EU. I am personally convinced that this comprehensive association agreement shall impact positively not just on political relations but also on people's lives," Ashton said.

Association agreements are part of the Eastern Partnership project, launched by the EU a year ago in Prague with the aim of enhancing relations with six former Soviet republics (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine). Apart from political relations, they cover trade aspects aiming at establishing deep free trade areas' as well as people-to-people contacts with the long-term goal of creating a visa-free regime.

According to EU sources, the European Commission, which on behalf of the Union will carry out the talks, intends to finalise negotiations on the political part of the agreements within two years. Talks on the more complex trade-related issues might last over three years, according to an EU official. …