BRUSSELS (Dec. 15)
Israel and the European Economic Community, after a long delay, signed a new trade protocol here Tuesday that will give Israeli agricultural exports certain tariff advantages in the European market.
But Israel had to make important concessions to win the agreement, changing the way produce from the West Bank and Gaza Strip are marketed in Europe.
The protocol was signed by Avi Primor, Israel’s ambassador to Belgium and the EEC, and by the permanent representatives of the 12 EEC member states. It must be ratified by the Parliament of Europe in Strasbourg, a formality not expected to take place before the end of the year.
The agreement affects mainly Israeli fruits, vegetables and fresh-cut flowers, which are popular on the continent during the winter season. It revises the original 1975 EEC-Israel trade accord in consideration of the entry of Spain and Portugal into the European Common Market in 1986. Spain, in particular, competes with Israel in agricultural exports, notably citrus fruits.
Although the protocol was initialed last year, final agreement was held up because Britain and Greece unofficially linked their approval to the separate issue of Palestinian agricultural exports to the EEC.
For a time, this threatened a breach between Israel and its European trading partners. Claude Cheysson, the EEC commissioner in charge of Mediterranean policy, in fact warned Israel several times that a crisis would occur if it refused to allow direct Palestinian exports to Europe.
Israel, which protested what it saw as an unfair linkage between the Palestinian issue and trade, insisted that all Palestinian exports from the territories it administers be channeled through the Israel state marketing companies, Agrexco and the Citrus Marketing Board.
In the end, however, Israel backed down. The new trade protocol provides that farmers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would have the option to export their produce to European customers directly. Israel also agreed that those exports would be labeled according to the place of origin instead of under the Israeli “Carmel” brand name.
France, Holland and Britain have offered to help the Palestinians set up export agencies to take advantage of the new arrangement.