Today I am in Tunis, the Tunisian capital. It's good to be here at such a special occasion - just after the announcement that the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to a quartet of Tunisian civil society organisations.
The Tunisian road to democracy has been a source of inspiration and hope for all of us, so during my visit here I want to convey a clear message: the EU stands by Tunisia to support its economic and political reform, and to help the country move forward.
Closer trade relations play an important role here. That's why the time is right to bring those relations to a higher level. Today, together with Prime Minister Habib Essid and Minister for Trade Ridha Lahouel, I am launching the negotiations for a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) between the EU and Tunisia. The aim is to tear down barriers to trade between us, and to make sure that the EU can support Tunisia's further development by opening up our trade relations. This will bring new growth and job opportunities to both sides. This agreement would be asymmetrical, meaning that the EU will open its market for Tunisia more, and faster, than vice versa. The EU is Tunisia's largest trading partner by a wide margin, accounting for 57 percent of total Tunisian trade.
The existing association agreement between us dates back to 1995 and is a good basis on which to build, but we want to make sure that Tunisia can gain more from opportunities on the EU market. We have already taken a step in this direction - last month, the Commission proposed to give additional access to the EU market for Tunisian olive oil through a 62 percent increase of the annual quota. As we now kick off our trade negotiations, we will not only discuss trade in agricultural products, but also investment and trade in, for instance, services. Through this process, we also give European companies a reassurance that the economic reforms in Tunisia are indeed on track, and that the time is ripe to boost investment in the country. Stimulating prosperity in our closest neighbourhood benefits all of us. I will also explain the project more in detail during a trade-related event here today.
I am also looking forward to personally congratulating the Nobel Peace Prize laureates here in Tunis. It will be a pleasure to exchange views with representatives of UTICA, UGTT, the Tunisian Order of Lawyers and the Tunisian League for the Defence of Human rights, as well as with other representatives of Tunisian civil society. We need to work hand in hand and ensure that civil society, as well as parliamentarians in both Tunisia and the EU, are involved in the process of deepening our relations, to the benefit of our respective peoples.