Cairo trade delegation recalled for 'technical reasons'

Israeli officials believe move was political.

Egypt stocks 88 248 (photo credit: )
Egypt stocks 88 248
(photo credit: )
An Egyptian trade delegation that arrived in Jerusalem on Thursday for routine consultations was recalled to Cairo for "technical reasons," according to the Egyptian ambassador. However, Israeli officials are calling the move an "unequivocal" political protest over Jerusalem's handling of the cease-fire negotiations that Egypt is brokering between Israel and Hamas. Less than two hours after the trade discussions began, a messenger from the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv informed the visiting delegation that the Egyptian President's Office had directed them to stop the talks immediately and to return home, said Gabby Bar, co-chairman of the Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ) committee and an official at the foreign trade administration of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor. "The political step was to protest the behavior of the Israeli government vis-a-vis the Egyptian government regarding the issue of the tahadiyeh [cease-fire] and the issue of Gilad Schalit. They told us this," Bar said. "They told us that because of the dissatisfaction of the president [Hosni Mubarak] regarding the behavior of the Israeli government, that they are forced to stop the discussions." An Egyptian representative on the QIZ committee in Cairo declined to comment on the issue. The Qualified Industrial Zones committee, which is composed of Egyptian, Israeli and American representatives, is a technical body that meets once every three months, alternating between Cairo and Jerusalem, to discuss implementation of the December 2004 QIZ agreement. The agreement created a number of commercial zones around Cairo, Alexandria and the Suez Canal, and goods produced there with Israeli raw materials are exported duty free to the United States. An Israeli diplomatic source agreed that the move was a political step, saying, "There weren't any technical reasons not to finish that meeting." The source added: "We don't think these kinds of actions help the cause, and they were here for a common cause [shared by] Israelis, Egyptians and Americans to better the trade sector in these three countries... We think it does not benefit any side." Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda informed the Foreign Ministry on Thursday that the delegation was recalled for "technical reasons" and would return to Israel in the near future. An Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman also released a statement on Friday, expressing "his surprise at the fuss that some of the foreign media and also Israeli press sources are trying to create" about the delegation's withdrawal from the meeting. The Egyptian delegation will submit a report to the interested parties in Egypt on the results of Thursday's consultations and will return to Israel after a date for additional consultations is coordinated, the statement said. The spokesman, however, did not specify the reason for the delegation's withdrawal, only saying he "scoffed at claims that there are internal disputes in Egypt concerning the implementation of the [QIZ] agreement." He also declined to state the reason on Sunday in a telephone interview. Under the QIZ agreement, Egyptian companies export about $200 million worth of products to the US duty free each quarter. Israel sells about $20m. worth of raw materials to Egypt each quarter under the agreement. The QIZ committee met on Thursday to review the list of Egyptian companies eligible to export their products to the US next quarter duty free. However, the delegation was instructed to walk out before the agreement was signed, Bar said. "It's clear that they will return, because... it would cause significant damage both to the Egyptian and Israeli industries [if they don't], but it would cause more significant damage to the Egyptian industry," he said. AP and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.