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North Macedonia, Greece, see trade boost after key name deal

August 31, 2021 GMT
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, left, talks with his North Macedonia's counterpart Bujar Osmani, right, during their meeting at the foreign ministry in Skopje, North Macedonia, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. Greek Foreign Minister Dendias is on a one-day official visit to North Macedonia. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
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Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, left, talks with his North Macedonia's counterpart Bujar Osmani, right, during their meeting at the foreign ministry in Skopje, North Macedonia, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. Greek Foreign Minister Dendias is on a one-day official visit to North Macedonia. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
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Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, left, talks with his North Macedonia's counterpart Bujar Osmani, right, during their meeting at the foreign ministry in Skopje, North Macedonia, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. Greek Foreign Minister Dendias is on a one-day official visit to North Macedonia. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — The foreign ministers of North Macedonia and Greece agreed Tuesday that bilateral ties have improved steadily since the two countries reached a deal that changed the name of Greece’s small Balkan neighbor.

North Macedonia’s foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, said bilateral trade and economic relations, in particular, have “deepened” since the 2019 agreement helped end decades of frosty relations with Greece.

Formerly known as Macedonia, the country renamed itself North Macedonia in return for Greece supporting its efforts to join NATO — which it has — and the European Union.

After talks with Osmani in Skopje, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said Athens supports its neighbor’s aim of joining the EU but that full implementation of the 2019 agreement is a vital prerequisite.

Dendias said Skopje has taken “important steps” in that direction, but he added that “there remains significant ground for correct implementation.”

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As part of the name change deal, the government in Skopje implemented many practical changes, including altering its official letterhead. It started issuing passports and identity cards with the North Macedonia name.

But a new obstacle to North Macedonia’s EU accession bid has emerged. Its eastern neighbor Bulgaria — like Greece, already an EU member — opposes the country’s membership, citing a bilateral dispute over history and national identity.