The agreement was due to be signed in January but was postponed after a number of EU member states, including the UK and Germany, called for the clause to be added. The late change angered many in Damascus – who felt Syria was being unfairly treated – and triggered new rounds of talks. Hesske believes these have now reached a positive conclusion.

‘We have made progress,’ he said. ‘We are very confident the most recent negotiations [in mid-September] will be the last. What will happen now is two months of political discussion in Brussels but all the signs are green.

‘The reason we have been able to make progress is that we have been able to explain that we are not singling out Syria. The EU policy is global and such a clause is in all of our new agreements.’

Under the terms of the agreement, Damascus will dismantle all tariffs on EU products over the next 12 years. Local tariffs on goods imported from the EU range from 10 per cent to more than 100 per cent. In return the EU is committed to increasing economic co-operation with Damascus by extending technical support to new sectors of the economy, including transport, tourism and financial services (MEED 2:1:04).