The European Union (EU) and 16 Caribbean countries have launched negotiations to strike a trade deal by 2008, which should boost rum exports into Europe.

The spirit is already the eastern Caribbean's largest export to the EU, (11% of sales - worth around €320m in 2003), with the European Investment Bank having a €70m lending programme for Caribbean rum.

Antigua & Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago will be involved in the talks.

EU trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said he wanted to "boost" existing "long-standing" commercial ties.