East Mediterranean countries finalise framework of regional forum in Cairo

Ahram Online , Thursday 16 Jan 2020

Officials from East Mediterranean countries agreed to cooperate to overcome major challenges in the region that have led to geopolitical and economic crises

A general view of minsters meeting at the third East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) which is hosted by Egypt and brings together Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan and the Palestinians in Cairo, Egypt January 16, 2020. (Reuters)

Officials of member countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) meeting in Cairo on Thursday finalised the forum's policy foundation framework that would upgrade it to an international government organisation, a statement by Egypt's petroleum ministry said.

The ministerial meeting, the third for the forum that was established last year, was attended by the ministers and representatives of Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Italy, Palestine, and Jordan. Representatives from the European Union and the World Bank attended the meetings, alongside guests from the US and France.

The framework of the EMGF, once completed, will be sent to the European Union to be reviewed, then it will be signed by the founding members, the statement noted.

Addressing the members of the forum, Egyptian Petroleum Minister Tarek El-Molla said the East Mediterranean countries agreed to "cooperate to overcome major challenges and developments in the region that have resulted in geopolitical and economic problems with the aim of continuing the development of natural resources in the region."

The forum aims at "alleviating political tensions and promoting peace and stability" through economic and regional cooperation among the participating countries, the Egyptian minister said.

During the meeting, France requested to join the East Mediterranean Gas Forum as a member, and the US expressed interest to join as "a permanent observer," the ministry said in a separate statement.

On the sidelines of the gathering, the Egyptian minister discussed with the Cypriots counterpart steps to set up a planned pipeline connecting Cyprus’ Aphrodite gas field to Egypt’s Idku liquefied natural gas plant under a 2018 agreement. El-Molla discussed potential investment opportunities in gas exploration in Egypt in talks with his Greek counterpart.

The forum was created in January 2019 to "create a regional gas market, optimise resource development, cut the cost of infrastructure, offer competitive prices and improve trade ties,” Egypt's petroleum ministry said at the time.

The second ministerial meeting of the organisation, based in Cairo, was held in November 2019 where members agreed to work to promote gas reserves in the region, estimated at 122 trillion cubic feet.

The East Mediterranean countries will meet next in Cairo in the second quarter of this year, the ministry said.

Mediterranean countries neighbouring Turkey were incensed by a maritime deal signed between Turkey and the Tripoli-based government of Libya in November, under which Ankara claimed vast areas of the sea.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country will begin exploring for gas in the Eastern Mediterranean this year. He added in remarks earlier on Thursday that it is now "legally impossible" for exploration and drilling activities or a pipeline in the areas between Libya and Turkey without the latter's approval.

On Wednesday, Israel began exporting natural gas to Egypt to be processed at Egyptian liquefied natural gas factories before being re-exported to Europe.

Earlier this month, Israel, Greece, and Cyprus signed an agreement to set up a pipeline in the East Mediterranean to ship gas to Europe, a project that Turkey opposes.

Egyptian Minister of Petroleum Tarek el-Molla
Egyptian Minister of Petroleum Tarek el-Molla attends the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), in Cairo, on January 16, 2020. (AFP)

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