U.S. Appoints Trade Facilitator to Ease Palestinian Imports

Israel is making it difficult to import American goods to the territories, says U.S. official

Israel is making it difficult to import American goods to the territories, said the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Commerce Department, David A. Sampson, during his visit to Israel over the weekend. He added that Israel has raised a number of barriers to trade with the Palestinians, some for security reasons, and others for reasons that are not critical.

He explained that one of the Commerce Department's biggest worries was the removal of the barriers to trade with the Palestinian market. He added that he understood and appreciated Israel's security needs, but was also worried about the unnecessary delays placed on U.S. companies who want to introduce their goods to the Palestinian market.

According to Sampson, U.S. companies in the consumer products, electronics and communications industries are interested in exporting to the PA and Israel is blocking their exports to the territories.

He said that since U.S. firms have complained of delays that last for months, the Commerce Department has decided to appoint, as of this month, a permanent trade facilitator in Israel, who will deal solely with these issues.

The representative will work full-time in order to help the agents and distributors of American products to move their goods to destinations in the West Bank and Gaza, explained Sampson.

The trade facilitator will be able to regularly intervene on the ground with key Israeli officials in the West Bank and at the Karni crossing about specific cases of blocked U.S. shipments, providing an extremely valuable service to U.S. exporters and their Palestinian customers. Most shipments destined for Gaza require coordination with Karni management officials to reserve a shipment time.

A broad range of American firms have distributors and agents in the West Bank and Gaza. Motorola, Hewlett Packard, Dell, Proctor & Gamble, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Checkers, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, and Polycom are just some of the major U.S. companies exporting American-made products to the West Bank and Gaza.

"One of the major priorities for the Department of Commerce is to break down market access barriers for U.S. exports in global markets, including Palestinian markets. We hope this will ease delays at the border, which can be very costly, resulting in damaged goods, storage charges and lost customers," Sampson said. He also said - in order to balance the picture - that the U.S. Embassy has enjoyed cooperation from Israel recently in the matter.

"Open markets and free trade are among the strongest forces for social change and democracy. I am proud that the Commercial Service is playing such a key role in working with Israeli authorities to expedite blocked U.S. goods to their Palestinian customers," Sampson said.

Palestinian importers face many obstacles, including internal checkpoints and border crossings, which prevent goods from arriving in a timely fashion.

Getting U.S. products across the border faster will strengthen U.S.-Palestinian trade and help keep Palestinian businesses afloat at this critical period of time. The U.S. Commercial Service will organize outreach meetings in the near future to explain how Palestinian companies can sign up for this new program, explained Sampson.

Last week Sampson met with the Minister of Trade and Industry, Eli Yishai, to discuss a number of issues related to intellectual property rights, as part of preparations to list Israel as a country that violates such rights.