US trade rep urges Israel to ease import rules

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. Trade Representative called on Israel to remove barriers to trade that favor Europe and its own commercial sector.

“Today, American companies continue to face challenges in their efforts to do business in Israel, often at a disadvantage to firms from Israel and other trading partners,” Michael Froman said Friday, addressing the annual U.S.-Israel Business Initiative Meeting convened by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Froman said that the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement, negotiated 30 years ago and the first of its kind for the United States, is unique among U.S. free trade agreements in that it allows Israel to impose tariffs and other barriers on exporting agricultural products.

“In agriculture, for example, Israel provides much greater market access to European firms than U.S. firms,” Froman said.

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“For wine, Europe’s quota is three times larger than our own,” he said. “Similarly, in frozen vegetables, Europe’s quota is more than six times larger than our own. Why does that make sense?”

Froman also said Israeli standards “that effectively exclude U.S. products.”

Froman’s plea to Israel to at least treat the United States on the same level as Europe, at a forum co-sponsored by Israel’s embassy in Washington and including Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, comes at a time when Europe is taking steps to label products manufactured in West Bank settlements.

The United States does not distinguish between products manufactured within Israel’s 1967 lines and in settlements.

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