Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have signed association agreements with the European Union (EU) in a move that foresees a free trade area between the countries and the bloc.

The agreements are expected to lead to the development of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) between each country and the EU, says the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and provide businesses and the economies of the countries with a vital boost.

“The DCFTA creates unique opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova to export to the EU, with stable and predictable preferential access to the largest market in the world,” says EU commissioner for European Neighbourhood policy and enlargement, Johannes Hahn.

“At the same time, the new framework requires firms to make the necessary investments and to set up the right conditions to comply with higher technical standards involved and to encourage new business relationships.”

The EBRD says it has provided finance to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in all three countries and that it will offer support to businesses to take full advantage of access to the EU market. It will provide help to improve production and processes, adapt to EU standards and become more competitive in new export markets.

The EBRD has been present in the three countries for 25 years and is the largest institutional investor in all three. The bank has invested €2.7bn in Georgia, €1.1bn in Moldova and €11.7bn in Ukraine.