U.S. Rejects Arab Group’s Request to Rescind Israeli Trade Benefits

The Bush administration Thursday formally rejected an Arab-American group’s petition challenging a trade benefit that the United States extends to Israel.

However, the United States will require identifying labels on goods from the West Bank, so they will not be given the trade preferences accorded goods made in Israel proper.

Israel was “found to meet the program’s eligibility standards and will continue to be eligible” for benefits under the 12-year-old Generalized System of Preferences program, said U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee filed a petition with the trade representative’s office last August contesting Israel’s participation in the GSP program on the grounds that Israel allegedly discriminated against Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who worked in Israel and the territories.

In its decision, the United States examined treatment of workers in Israel proper, and not in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, on the basis that U.S. law does not recognize the territories as part of Israel.

INVESTIGATION OF SYRIA CONTINUES

Herb Magidson, president of the Jewish Labor Committee, which testified on behalf of Israel during hearings last November, hailed the decision.

“The purely political complaint issued last summer, against the only country in the Middle East with a free trade union movement,” did not “survive the intense scrutiny” of trade officials, Magidson said in a statement.

The decision “demonstrates that Israel respects trade unionism and the rights of workers, even under the most trying circumstances,” he said.

The GSP program allows various Israeli products to enter the United States duty-free. Had Israel lost its GSP status, $14 million to $20 million of the close to $3 billion in Israeli exports to the United States would have been affected, a State Department source said.

The GSP status of Syria, meanwhile, which was contested in a petition filed by the AFL-CIO, will continue for another year while an investigation continues, Hills said.

The State Department source explained that the GSP subcommittee, composed of the trade representative’s office, State Department, and the Agriculture, Commerce, Labor and Treasury departments, has been hampered by a “lack of information” on worker rights in Syria.

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