The European Union (EU) and Qatar have finalized negotiations on a “comprehensive air services agreement” aimed at ensuring transparency and fair competition between the Gulf nation and the 28-country bloc.

The draft agreement, which has been in the works for more than eight years, was reached Feb. 5. A formal initialing of the draft will take place soon, then it will go to the individual nations of the European bloc for their assent. Final agreement is likely to take more than six months.

Negotiations on a similar agreement between the EU and Oman will get under way in March.

The next such agreement to be finalized will be between the EU and the Association of South East Asian Nations and negotiations on a similar deal with Turkey are active, European Commission director general-mobility & transport Henrik Hololei said in Doha.

“This agreement will put in place a single set of rules, for all services between the EU and Qatar,” European commissioner for transport Violeta Bulc said in a statement. “It will create new jobs, business opportunities and provide better prices for passengers.”

“As a result of this agreement, we will have a predictable legal framework between the two parties,” Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker said, welcoming the news. “I see a lot of possibilities.”

The agreement “goes well beyond mere traffic rights,” Hololei said at the CAPA 2019 Qatar Aviation Aeropolitical & Regulatory Summit. He described it as a milestone agreement, the first of its type with a Gulf country.

The deal is expected to improve transparency and ensure open and fair markets: “It aims for clear cooperation in all aspects of aviation: safety, air traffic management modernization, social issues and consumers’ rights, etc.” He declined to go into detail on measures contained in the agreement.

However, one point aimed at easing trading conditions means that EU carriers will no longer need a general sales agent in Qatar as a condition of operating there.

The agreement will also cover areas such as consumer rights and, significantly, “social aspects,” which will cover workers’ rights. Trade unions are illegal in much of the Gulf and there have been complaints for years over the treatment of workers, notably from Asia, in the region.

The EU has no intention of trying to impose European labor rights standards on Qatar, EU sources told ATW, but there had been a lot of focus on Qatar and how labor was treated there. The International Labor Organization (ILO) had recognized there had been great progress in this field recently, as the ILO opened an office in Qatar to monitor the situation.

Similarly, sources said both sides were committed to high standards in areas such as passenger rights—again, without imposing EU standards—which insist on EU airlines paying substantial financial penalties to passengers whose flights are delayed beyond a certain number of hours.

Alan Dron