BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is close to striking air traffic agreements with Qatar and a group of countries in southeast Asia, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Negotiations on the two deals are "on the home stretch" and could come into effect in 2019, the people said.
As part of the deals, Qatar and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) would agree to ensure their airlines conform to environmental, worker safety and competition standards, and would in exchange be guaranteed that they would be given the same rights as their competitors.
ASEAN includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.
EU member states gave the green light in 2016 for the European Commission to pursue air traffic agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey and the ASEAN countries to try to support its airlines.
Flying rights are typically granted on a bilateral basis between governments.
Some EU airlines, notably Air France-KLM and Lufthansa, have long complained about what they see as unfair competition from foreign carriers such as those in the Gulf region - Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways - which they accuse of receiving illegal state subsidies.
The three airlines strongly deny such claims.
The agreements being discussed would rule out unfair subsidies for airlines, the sources said.
They said some points of the air traffic agreements still remained to be worked out and added that the content of the contracts could still change.
(Reporting by Peter Maushagen; Writing by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Michelle Martin)