Abbas with Sarkozy - AP - April 21, 2011
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, April 21, 2011. Photo by AP
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Wednesday he wanted to see a united European Union voice on the issue of Palestinian statehood at next month's United Nations General Assembly and urged the United States to do more for peace.

"The 27 countries of the European Union must express themselves with one voice," Sarkozy said in an opening speech to an annual conference of French ambassadors.

"The role of the U.S. is uncontested and irreplaceable, but everybody sees that it is not enough. We have to widen the circle of negotiation, think of the role and pertinence of the quartet."

Sarkozy said the world could not continue to leave the Israel-Palestinian peace process frozen while the Arab Spring forces change elsewhere in the region.

Also on Wednesday, the EU moved closer to a trade deal with the Palestinian Authority after unanimous backing from European lawmakers to fully open markets to farm and fish products from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The 27-0 vote by the European Parliament's international trade committee paves the way for full parliamentary approval for a deal later this year, signalling EU support for the
PA as it prepares for its statehood bid next month. 

While small - trade between the EU and the West Bank and Gaza was worth 60 million euros in 2009, of which just 10 percent constituted Palestinian exports to the EU - the move nonetheless represents an opportunity for exports to boost an economy weakened by chronic conflict with Israel.

"This deal is enormously important. It gives more power to the Palestinians to trade directly with the EU. And it's a signal of good will from the international community that comes
at an important time," said Maria Eleni Koppa, a Greek socialist lawmaker who led the committee's discussion on the issue.

The West Bank and Gaza mostly export vegetables, fruits and cut flowers to the European Union, while the territories import EU machinery, chemicals and transport equipment.

The new deal will give Palestinian exporters unlimited duty-free access to European markets for farm goods and products as well as fresh and processed fish.

"For us this is one of the agreements that will help us build the economy of an independent sovereign state," Majed Bamya, a Palestinian diplomat in Brussels, told Reuters.

The full European Parliament is due to vote on the trade agreement in late September.

Once approved, the deal needs final backing from EU member states and ratification by the PA. It is expected to enter into force before the end of 2011.

In 2005, Europe imposed strict labelling laws on goods arriving from  Israeli settlements in the West Bank. But complex laws and the fact that trade is conducted largely through Israeli channels has created lingering concerns that Israeli farm operators may be benefiting from deals designed to aid Palestinians.

"We have been campaigning, especially in European countries, that they should not import from Israel products that are produced in (Israeli) settlements ... and if they want to import
anything from settlements then it has to be labeled separately (as settlement produce)," Ghassan Khatib, spokesman for the PA in Ramallah, told Reuters.

Palestinians say that controls by Israel restricts their access to export markets, denying them economic opportunity.

Palestinians have argued that better access to export markets is vital to allowing the Palestinian economy to grow, in turn allowing the PA to ease its dependence on aid from donors including the European Union.

Europe's deal with the PA also forms part of ongoing EU moves to open up trade and investment with the Mediterranean rim along North Africa and the Middle East.