New bill in Congress prioritizes fight against BDS in EU trade talks

The US-Israel Trade and Commercial Enhancement Act, over a year in the making, calls the BDS effort across Europe "commercial discrimination."

United States Capitol building in Washington, DC. (photo credit: REUTERS)
United States Capitol building in Washington, DC.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Two congressmen introduced a bill on Tuesday that would condition US trade negotiations with the European Union on its efforts to quell the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
Authors of the bill, Congressman Peter J. Roskam (R-Illinois) and Congressman Juan Vargas (D-California), say the bill addresses an “alarming” trend throughout Europe toward “embracing” BDS.
The US-Israel Trade and Commercial Enhancement Act, over a year in the making, calls the BDS effort across Europe “commercial discrimination” in violation of EU commitments under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, a multilateral agreement on trade practices.
European nations, opposed to Israel’s settlement policies in the West Bank, would be discouraged in any future agreement from “politically motivated actions” to boycott and sanction Israel.
A principle trade negotiating objective, the bill reads, would be “to seek the elimination of politically motivated non-tariff barriers on Israeli goods, services, or other commerce imposed on the State of Israel.”
While the US president has unique authority to negotiate such agreements – the White House has been pushing for new Trans-Pacific and Trans-Atlantic partnerships since 2013 – constitutionally, Congress must ratify trade pacts with a two-thirds majority.
Alternatively, Congress can grant the president fast-track negotiating authority, which lowers the bar for passage of a trade pact through the legislature: Any deal presented under the measure cannot be amended by Congress, and requires a mere up-or-down vote.
Part of granting the president that promotion authority is the process of outlining principle objectives in trade talks.
This is where Congress sees an opportunity to leverage the White House on fighting BDS, Hill aides say.
Another concern raised in the bill is the subjugation of American persons and businesses to investigation merely for engaging in trade with Israel, as proposed by BDS advocates.
“No court in the United States may recognize or enforce any judgment which is entered by a foreign court against a United States person carrying out business operations in Israel or in any territory controlled by Israel,” the bill reads.
The movement, Roskam told The Jerusalem Post, is “a form of economic warfare aimed to cripple Israel’s economy and demonize its very existence.”
“These attacks not only threaten Israel, but commercial relations across the globe,” Roskam continued, asserting that his bill ensures “that American free trade partners never engage in this harmful and illegitimate political protest against Israel, while also protecting US companies from foreign lawsuits targeting their associations with Israel.”
Characterized foremost as trade legislation, authors of the bill expect passage to the House floor through the Committee on Ways and Means, where Roskam is a member and chairman of the committee Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) was thoroughly consulted on the bill’s crafting.
Also in an e-mailed statement, Vargas called BDS a “harmful political tactic.” The American Israel Public Affairs Committee supported both congressmen in their efforts.
Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the United States and a listed Koolanu party candidate in Israel’s March elections, called the bill “a testament to the historical alliance between our two countries” in a letter to its authors.
“Your crucial legislation, recalling America’s earlier role in defeating the Arab boycott, represents a major contribution to Israel’s security,” Oren wrote. “Your bill will set a new and principled bar against all attempts to boycott Israel and to undermine America’s vital interests in the Middle East.”