European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht pledged Wednesday that the EU would continue supporting Myanmar both as a trade and a development partner, hoping to continue working with the Myanmar authorities and private sector to strengthen trade relationship, according an EU press release. Karel will launch negotiation on an EU-Myanmar investment protection agreement Thursday in Myanmar's capital Nay Pyi Taw, a day after his arrival in Yangon. Karel expressed satisfaction with the fact that bilateral trade between Myanmar and the EU has already increased by 41 percent between 2012 and 2013. With the reinstatement of EU trade preferences in July 2013, Myanmar companies now enjoy duty-free and quota-free access to European market of over 500 million consumers for all products except for arms and ammunition, Karel said. The reinstatement of the Everything but Arms (EBA) initiative under the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP) came in response to Myanmar's process of political and economic reform which began in 2011 and in particular progress in labor rights, and followed the June 2012 decision by the Conference of the International Labor Organization (ILO) to suspend its restrictive resolution on Myanmar. The press release disclosed that in 2013, bilateral trade in goods with Myanmar amounted to 569 million euro, compared with 403 million euro in 2012, a 41 percent increase. Myanmar exports to the EU increased by 35 percent in 2013 to 223 million euro compared with 165 million euro in 2012. Karel arrived in Yangon Wednesday on a two-day official visit to Myanmar in a bid to reinforce trade relationship between Myanmar and the EU. Shortly after his arrival, Karel attended an event hosted by the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce (UMFCCI) to present to the business community the Handbook for Myanmar Exporters on EU Trade Preferences.