Syria and the European Union initialled on Sunday an updated version of a partnership agreement, four years after a first deal in Brussels which the EU member states refused to sign for political reasons.
Tayssir Raddaui, Chairman of Syrian State Planning Board, and Hugo Mingarelli, Deputy Director General of Directorate for External Relations at the European Commission, signed the initial agreement in Damascus.
At a press conference afterwards, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdullah al-Dardari told reporters that the final signing of the agreement would be carried out in the first half of next year.
The agreement provided for EU's economic and technical support to Syria, political dialogue and cultural cooperation, said the Syrian official.
The economic aspect is the most important part in the deal, which aimed mainly at building a free trade zone between Syria and the EU in 12 years, he added.
"We are talking about a partnership in science and technology, environment, free trade and economic policy, and economic stagnation in the European Union does not mean that it is not one of the biggest markets in the world and would remain important market for Syrian products in spite of the recession," said Dardari.
The initialling of the amended agreement came after recent talks by Dardari in Brussels with EU officials and following improvement in relations between Syria and the EU countries after Syria's decision to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon this summer.
The two sides had initialled the partnership agreement in 2004, but EU member states refused to make it final after the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri in February 2005, which were blamed on Damascus. But Syria denied any involvement.
Syria was the only country that did not sign an association agreement with the EU under the Barcelona process, which was started in 1995 to foster dialogue between EU member states and countries on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean.