Turkey, Arab neighbors prepping for mideast free trade zone


The foreign ministers of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan have agreed to step up cooperation as they move closer to creating a free trade zone, complete with visa-free travel in a cooperation scheme that many say would establish the Middle East's version of the European Union. Speaking after the meeting with his Arab counterparts on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Saturday that the zone is likely to be formally announced at a summit of leaders of the four countries in Istanbul next January. "We hope that this is good news not only for these four countries but also for the entire region," he added. The countries first agreed to set up a cooperation council to "develop a long-term strategic partnership" and "create a zone of free movement of goods and persons among our countries" in June during a foreign ministers meeting on the sidelines of a Turkey-Arab cooperation forum in Istanbul. Davutoglu said the four-way cooperation will focus on four areas in the coming months: energy, trade, transportation and tourism. He also reiterated that the agreement to create a free trade zone was not an exclusive one, saying it is open to all friendly countries in the region. "They could be full members or join on a sectoral or project basis," he said.