US-UAE trade talks to resume

Israel boycott not on the agenda, despite criticism from Congress.

Undeterred by the collapse of its ports deal with Dubai two months ago, the Bush administration plans to resume free trade talks with the United Arab Emirates next week, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Despite the uproar back then in the US Congress over the Gulf Arab nation's enforcement of an anti-Israel boycott, US negotiators may not even raise the issue in next week's talks. "The US and UAE will be holding the next set of free trade agreement discussions the week of May 8," Christin Baker, the assistant US trade representative for public and media affairs, told the Post. The talks, she said, will focus on issues such as investment, telecommunications and government procurement. When asked if the boycott of Israel would also be on the agenda, Baker was noncommittal. "In addition to the ones which will be a focal point, there are other issues that will be discussed, potentially including the boycott," she said. That answer did not sit well with members of Congress, who said the US should press the UAE to drop its boycott of the Jewish state. Rep. Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland and a ranking member of the House of Representatives' Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, said, "I believe the termination of the UAE's participation in the boycott should be a priority for US negotiators in the ongoing free trade agreement negotiations." "The UAE's continued participation in the Arab League boycott," Cardin said, "violates basic trading principles, limits economic growth and stability in the Middle East, and serves only to exacerbate tensions between the United States, Israel and the UAE." Rep. Sander Levin, a senior member of the House Ways and Means Trade subcommittee, was also adamant that the UAE' s boycott of Israel be brought to an end. "I strongly oppose the application of any boycott against Israel and Israeli-made products, whether sponsored by the Arab League or applied on an individual country basis," he told the Post. "Trade is a two-way street, so it is important in our trade relations to insist that boycotts are eliminated. "In negotiating a free trade agreement with the UAE," Levin said, the US Trade Representative "should make crystal clear that the US will not enter into trade agreements with a country that engages in any aspect of this boycott. Full repeal of the boycott is imperative for the successful negotiation of a US-UAE free trade agreement," he said. The trade talks, which will take place in Abu Dhabi, were originally scheduled for March 13, but were cancelled in the wake of a public row over the proposed purchase of US ports by a Dubai-based firm. The deal was eventually dropped. Dubai is a constituent state of the United Arab Emirates. As first reported in the Post on February 28, Dubai's government actively enforces the Arab League embargo of Israel. "Yes, of course the boycott is still in place and is still enforced," Muhammad Rashid a-Din, a staff member of the Dubai Customs Department's Office for the Boycott of Israel, confirmed in a telephone interview. "If a product contained even some components that were made in Israel, and you wanted to import it to Dubai, it would be a problem," he said. At the time, the Gulf Arab state's prohibition on Israeli products prompted harsh criticism from US legislators, with Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, saying, "I for one really deplore the position of the UAE on Israel. I don't know of any senator that doesn't."