A trade agreement between Ecuador and the European Union was reached on July 17, which is expected to allow the Andean nation to increase its exports to the EU countries by at least $500 million over the next three years.

“After almost four years of work, finally we have closed a balanced agreement with the European Union, which maximizes opportunities, reduces to a minimum the costs, respects the country’s development model and allows to protect our sensitive sectors,” Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Francisco Rivadeneira said in a statement from Brussels.

President Rafael Correa said that Ecuador could lose hundreds of millions of dollars worth of exports without a trade deal with the EU. He said the agreement was negotiated carefully, with much patriotism.

The most sensitive issues in the negotiations were related to intellectual property, strategic sectors and public-sector purchases.

The deal must be approved by several institutions in Ecuador, including the Constitutional Court and the National Assembly. It also must be approved by the European Parliament and the legislatures of the 28 EU member countries.

According to FreshFruitPortal.com, Ecuador’s banana industry is optimistic that the deal reached between the South American country and the EU will be a catalyst for improved tariff conditions.

Mr Rivadeneira told newspaper El Universo the agreement would still need to be approved by the European Parliament. He said the toughest parts of reaching the deal were in the agricultural sphere.

“We wanted to achieve the best situation for bananas, as we are the main supplier to the European market,” the minister told the publication, emphasizing smallholder farmers would also be excluded from tariffs or would have safeguards.

Banana Exporters’ Association of Ecuador (AEBE) president Eduardo Ledesma described the deal as “marvelous” when speaking with www.freshfruitportal.com.

“The agreement that has been reached is tremendously positive for the banana sector, as we have had a very high tariff differential with the likes of Colombia and other competitors who pay €117 (US$158) per [metric] ton, while it’s €132 (US$178.50) for us,” he said.

“We are the main supplier for Europe and are very content that we’ve reached an agreement and that the differentials will be reduced, and the possibilities to export will increase.

“In 2013 Ecuador’s exports declined 3%, and with this agreement not only will we be able to recover that fall, but we’ll be able to increase on before, and continue to be the main exporter of bananas to the European Union.”

The European Union is the main market for Ecuador’s non-oil exports and the third-largest market for manufacturing exports.

The Andean country sends about 30% of its non-oil exports to the EU, mainly to Spain, Holland, Germany and Belgium. Ecuador’s exports include bananas, shrimp, cocoa, tuna and roses. Last year exports to the European Union totaled $3.0 billion and have been increasing by an average of about 4% per year, according to trade data.