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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Our 'friends' the Saudis still boycott Israel

Saudi Arabia was admitted to the World Trade Organization on condition that they would drop their boycott of Israel. Guess what? Surprise, surprise, surprise! They were admitted to the WTO and they're still boycotting Israel. In fact, the Jerusalem Post says, they're quite open about it:

"If a product is made in Israel, then it is a problem. It is not allowed here," Muhammad al-Matrafi, a spokesman for the Director's Office of the King Khalid Airport in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, said by phone on Monday.

"That is the law here in Saudi Arabia, and we do not allow those kinds of things into the kingdom," he said, adding, "If there is any mention of Israel on the container or on the product, then it can not enter Saudi Arabia."

A Saudi customs official at the Persian Gulf port of Ras Tanurah was equally adamant that no Israeli-made goods would be permitted to enter the country.

"There is still a ban on Israeli products, and anything declared as coming from Israel will not be allowed," said the customs official, who gave his name only as Capt. Hosni. "Some people may try to say that a product was made elsewhere, but if there is anything which shows it was made in Israel, then it is a problem," he said.

Another Saudi customs official at the Al Durah land crossing on the Saudi-Jordanian border reaffirmed that the ban on Israeli-made goods remains in place. Asked by phone if products made in Israel could be brought into the desert kingdom, he angrily replied, "No, no, no. Absolutely not," before hanging up.

Last week, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said in written responses to questions raised by members of the US Senate Finance Committee that Saudi Arabia was no longer honoring the boycott:

"We have raised this issue directly with senior Saudi officials on several occasions, both in Riyadh and in Washington....

"In all cases, we have received assurances that Saudi Arabia fully understands and remains committed to its WTO obligations, including the WTO obligation to treat all WTO members according to WTO rules," Schwab said.

…If Israel believes Saudi Arabia is boycotting its goods and services, it could bring a case against Riyadh at the WTO and "the United States could support such a case," Schwab said.

If Saudi Arabia boycotts U.S. companies doing business with Israel, U.S. trade officials will immediately raise the issue with Riyadh and could file a case at the WTO, she said.

A report issued by the Saudi Samba Financial Group entitled "Saudi Arabia and the WTO" notes the following (the link is to a summary - the full report is here):

To become a member, Saudi Arabia made major commitments to reduce tariffs, open services sectors of the economy to greater foreign participation, and to implement all WTO rules upon membership without recourse to transition periods. This means that when Saudi Arabia became a member, it was committed immediately to an intellectual property rights environment, a foreign investment environment, transparency in trade issues, legal recourse for trade partners, and elimination of technical barriers to trade, all in compliance with WTO requirements.


Equally important, however, is what the WTO agreement does not do. It does not require the importation of religiously banned products such as pork and alcohol, change Saudi Arabia’s trade stance toward Israel, address human rights issues, require changes to Saudization policies, weaken Saudi product standards or food safety standards, require the Kingdom to charge higher domestic prices for energy and petrochemical feedstocks, or leave Saudi Arabia exposed without recourse to dumping of inferior foreign products on the market—all concerns that we have heard expressed over the years of Saudi-WTO negotiations.

In other words, the Saudis are in the WTO and the boycott continues.


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