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Arab states joining the World Trade Organization must follow the precedent set by Saudi Arabia and remove the economic boycott on Israel before being allowed membership in the organization, Finance and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Ehud Olmert urged WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy at the trade conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia became the 149th member of the organization on Sunday, three months after agreeing to lift certain aspects of its boycott against Israel. The Saudis committed to obey WTO trade rules regarding all member countries of the organization, including Israel.
In his meeting with Lamy, Olmert also stressed the importance of multilateral trade for Israel.
Israel's key goals are to negotiate reducing duties on industrial goods, to reach a balanced agricultural agreement (flexibility in applying customs reductions), and liberalization in the trade of computer and programming services, Olmert told Lamy.
"Israel has assumed integration in globalization as a strategic goal. Liberalization in the context of the WTO is important to Israel," he said.
Agricultural and industrial merchandise are the focus of interest for Israeli industry and the economy, he added.
In his speech before a conference of ministers at the Hong Kong event, Olmert stressed the centrality of import duties as the key tool available to Israel to protect domestic agriculture, and demanded that in any agricultural reform, required customs reductions be gauged relative to the level of subsidies given. Israeli agriculture receives almost no subsidy, as opposed to the accepted norm within the EU and among wealthier countries as a whole, he said.
Israel favors further reductions of duties on industrial goods, alongside the removal of other obstacles to industrial trade, he added.
Turkey wnats Israel-US QIZ deal
Turkish Industry and Trade Minister Ali Coskun told Israeli Finance and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Ehud Olmert he was willing to enter a Qualifying Industrial Zone agreement with Israel and the US, similar to those existing that already are benefiting trade between Israel and Egypt and Jordan.
QIZs benefit Egyptian and Jordanian industrial products coming from designated regions that integrate a certain component of Israeli origin, through reduced tariffs for import to the US.
Olmert said Israel would consider the idea positively, but stressed that the two sides must first receive US approval before a new QIZ treaty can be advanced.
During their meeting at the WTO's conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Coskun and Olmert praised a new agreement to expand agricultural trade between the two countries, which includes incentives expected to add more than $30 million worth of agricultural goods to the bilateral trade figure.
Olmert also met Wednesday with Jordanian Industry and Trade Minister Sharif Zu'bi, who suggested that Israel and Jordan are ready to expand economic cooperation to new sectors, including technological and information industries. While in Hong Kong, Olmert also met with Hutchison Telecoms Group Director Fok Kin-ning, and suggested establishing a joint research and development fund.