The 'association agreement', which will now be submitted to the Council and will later be ratified by the member states' parliaments, completes the EU's network of association agreements with all partners identified in the Barcelona process. Similar agreements have already been signed with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey and Tunisia. The Syrian agreement had been held up over a clause on weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
The agreement covers three areas. In the political chapter, the agreement provides a framework for regular dialogue and contains provisions on WMD and anti-terrorism-related issues. In the economic chapter, the document foresees the establishment of a free trade area between the EU and Syria by 2010. The agreement also extends to co-operation in social and cultural matters.
The agreement comes with the US administration considering tightening economic sanctions on Syria to put pressure on Damascus to pull its troops out of Lebanon and crack down on terrorism.
Israel had called the agreement prior to its signing a "pity". Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said that it was "critical" to step up international pressure and to isolate both Syria and Iran. He also called on Europe to "strengthen the international front against terror".
In 2003, the EU's exports to Syria totalled around 2.2 billion euro, while Syria exported 3.1 billion euro worth of goods to the Union.