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(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
Israeli business leaders have been invited to present their vision for trade reforms during a visit to the country by Guy Sebban, secretary-general of the International Chamber of Commerce, ahead of upcoming World Trade Organization meetings.
"The International Chamber of Commerce is a body that has earned great influence in international trade and economic relations, and enjoys say with the United Nations, OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] and WTO, as well as among authorities in various countries," noted Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce President Uriel Lynn, stressing that the Paris-based ICC is entirely independent of any government body.
Sebban met with bankers, business leaders, Foreign Ministry Director-General Ron Prosor and Amnon Dotan, the head of Israeli binational chambers of commerce.
Israeli business wants the ICC to lobby the World Trade Organization towards setting a timeframe within which the whole world will constitute one unified free trade area - "excepting agricultural products, and on this too [tariffs] should be lowered gradually," Lynn said.
Lynn also called for agreements toward the establishment of uniform consumer import standards - arguing that inconsistent standards "negatively impact trade, and Israeli [businesses] in particular," - as well as for action to narrow disparities among taxation levels around the world.
ICC and the Israeli business leaders "share the same world view," of a free market, open international trade, and reducing customs duties as well as non-tariff barriers, said Lynn.
Sebban noted that ICC represents businesses from all sectors and of all sizes, from the smallest enterprises to large multinationals, adding that the organization seeks to draw attention to globalization's benefits.
Other major issues pursued by the ICC include the opportunities presented to developing countries by the emergence of the "information society" and related technologies, as well as the struggle against piracy and promotion of intellectual property rights.
"Thanks to intellectual property rights there is more innovation and creativity. This is a motor for [economic] growth," Sebban said.
The current round of WTO talks, initiated in Doha in 2001, is scheduled to be picked up in Geneva with negotiations on agricultural and industrial trade reforms on April 30, and with talks on trade in services in July, which follow the previous summit held in December in Hong Kong.
In July 2007, the ICC will hold its biennial World Chambers Federation (WCF) convention, bringing thousands of participants and trade experts to Istanbul, Turkey.
Israeli businessmen and professionals have been enthusiastic participants in the work groups of past conferences, particularly those focusing on hi-tech and telecommunications, Sebban said.
Lynn praised the WCF as a forum allowing contact with chambers of commerce from around the world, including representatives from such countries as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.
"Access is personal and direct," he said.
Sebban, meanwhile, commented that "establishing economic and commercial links has always been a factor towards stability and peace,", noting that the ICC was originally founded for that purpose following World War I.
Israelis, however, have been less active participants in the ICC's arbitration service, whether as mediators or parties to disputes, Lynn noted, attributing the fact to a perception that international arbitration would be cumbersome and complicated
Yet, Sebban stressed that ICC arbitration is faster and less expensive than settling disputes through the courts or other frameworks, and allows for easier navigation through language barriers. Since 1923, the ICC has mediated 14,000 trade disputes, with roughly 500 cases handled each year.