Israel expects UK to check if tariff deal kept

After bid to ban produce from settlements, Britain not willing to publicize probe into Israeli imports.

cherry tomatoes 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
cherry tomatoes 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel expects Britain to release an investigation showing Israeli goods are not entering Britain in violation of EU-Israel trade agreements suspending tariffs on goods from within the Green Line, but not from the territories, sources in Jerusalem said Monday. Late last year, Britain circulated an internal note to the 26 other EU members raising concern that goods produced in the settlements, and subject to tariffs, were entering Britain tariff-free. Furthermore, the non-paper urged the EU to adopt a more stringent labeling policy on goods coming from Israel, amid British concern that goods labeled "made in the West Bank" could lead consumers to erroneously believe they were of Palestinian origin. However, the sources said, an internal British investigation of goods from 28 Israeli companies found that there was no violation in the imports from 26 of them, while the goods from two companies were still being looked into. According to the sources, when Israeli officials turned to their British counterparts with requests that this probe be made public, so that the cloud of suspicion would be lifted from Israeli companies, the British replied they had no intention of doing so, since they had never dealt with the issue publicly. In November, the British Independent reported that London was "taking the lead in pressing the EU to curb imports from Israeli producers in the occupied West Bank as a practical step towards halting the steady increase in the construction of Jewish settlements." According to the paper, London proposed that "other member states should follow its own example in conducting a 'targeted examination of goods imported from Israel to establish whether they were in fact produced inside the 1967 Green Line.' Results from the Customs and Excise Study, to identify 'potential settlement goods incorrectly described as being of Israeli origin,' have not yet been published." But according to the sources in Jerusalem, the investigation has shown no wrongdoing on the part of the Israeli companies, and it is incumbent on the British authorities to make this clear. The sources said that as a result of the British non-paper, other European countries had begun to suspect Israeli companies of tariff violations. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel was "happy that the British told us there was no basis for their suspicions," and that Israel now expected a "public clarification." The EU decided in the 1990s that tariff exemptions would only apply to goods "made in Israel," but those made beyond the Green Line would have to pay customs duties. After a prolonged discussion, then-industry and trade minister Ehud Olmert reached an agreement with the EU in 2004 whereby Israel would indicate where the goods were made. Despite this, there have been persistent European allegations that Israeli companies in Judea and Samaria were registering their company offices inside the Green Line, thereby getting around the regulations. The British Embassy issued a statement Monday saying that the British authorities "commenced at the end of July 2008 a series of targeted physical examinations to establish the extent of the problem of packaging showing that goods were produced in a place different to the location and postcode shown on the proof of preferential origin, and the resultant impact on the validity of claims to preference made under the EU/Israel Agreement. We have not publicized the findings as only the first round of targeted exams has been completed." According to the statement, "some 26 physical examinations were undertaken between the end of July and the end of September 2008. As imports of fresh produce are seasonal, a further targeted exercise commenced at the beginning of January 2009 and will continue until the end of April." The statement added that a "roundtable" for major retailers, retail consortiums, consumer groups and a small number of NGOs will be held at the end of March to discuss "new voluntary guidance" on labeling produce from the West Bank.