Saudi Bid to Join Gatt Facing Opposition over Boycott Stance

Pro-Israel forces and their supporters in Congress are seeking to block a bid by Saudi Arabia to join the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade until it abandons the Arab boycott of companies doing business with Israel.

Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.) introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives last Friday opposing the Saudi bid to join the international trade regime until the Arab country “formally and publicly renounces its participation in the secondary and tertiary Arab boycott.”

Gejdenson, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on economic policy, trade and environment, introduced the resolution at the request of the World Jewish Congress.

The secondary and tertiary aspects of the boycott refer to an Arab blacklist of companies or countries doing business with Israel, and of third parties doing business with those companies or countries.

Saudi Arabia applied to join GATT on July 21, and a group of GATT members, including the United States, is currently considering the Saudi application. GATT is a multilateral treaty with 111 current signatories that is aimed at liberalizing world trade.

Also opposing the Saudi bid to join GATT is the International Steering Committee on Freedom of Trade with Israel, an umbrella group coordinating Jewish organizations’ anti-boycott activities, which raised the subject last week in a letter to top Clinton administration officials.

“It is our strong belief that Saudi Arabia should not be granted membership in GATT without first committing, concretely and publicly, to a dismantling of its boycott of foreign firms with commercial ties to Israel,” Walter Stern, the steering committee’s chairman, wrote Aug. 2.

The letter was sent to Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor.

GATT members are required to trade with one another “on the basis of non-discrimination,” Stern pointed out.

“Israel has been a member of GATT since 1962. But there has been no indication that, if admitted to GATT, Saudi Arabia would cease its boycott of Israel,” he wrote.

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