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EU: West Bank goods aren't Israeli
February 25, 2010 16:16
Products from territories considered neither Israeli nor Palestinian by bloc.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, righ

abbas with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy 311. (photo credit:AP)

BRUSSELS — The European Union's high court ruled Thursday that products that Israeli companies make in the West Bank are subject to import duties in the EU because they are not covered by trade agreements the bloc has with Israel or the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel had no immediate comment on the EU court ruling.

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Existing EU trade agreements charge no import duties on Israeli products made in Israel and Palestinian ones made in the West Bank.

Israel's military maintains control over the territory, which is home to many Palestinians and Israeli settlements. Israeli companies located in the settlements produce many products there, including cookies and pretzels, wines and cosmetics and computer equipment.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah both have preferential access to the vast 27-nation EU market.

Since Palestinians have few job opportunities in the Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank, jobs in settlement factories are sought after.

Still, pro-Palestinian groups in Europe are likely to be pleased by Thursday's ruling because they regularly protest in European supermarkets to complain about "Made in Israel" labels on farm products from the West Bank.

Thursday's ruling stems from a German case filed by Brita, a German company that imports drink-makers for sparkling water and fruit syrups from Soda-Club Ltd., an Israeli company in Mishor Adumim, one of 10 Israeli industrial areas in the West Bank.

Brita told German customs authorities its imports came from Israel and were therefore exempt from import duties.

Suspecting they came from the West bank, German authorities asked Israel to clarify matters. Israeli customs only confirmed the goods originated in an area under Israeli responsibility and said nothing about the West Bank.

That led Germany to impose customs duties. On appeal, a Hamburg appeal court to ask the Court of Justice of the European Union for its opinion. It ruled Israel and the Palestinians have separate trade deals with the EU, each with "its own territorial scope" and benefits.

The Palestinian Authority cannot lose rights to trade benefits to an EU-Israel deal, and Israeli goods can only get preferential treatment if they have been manufactured in Israel proper, the court said.
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