Wednesday

20th Nov 2019

Opinion

International trade: Israel should not be discriminated against

  • Israel is a major exporter of pharmaceutical products (Photo: Tiago Rïbeiro)

Last week the European Parliament voted to approve trade preferences to the Palestinian Authority that will allow agricultural and fisheries products from West Bank and Gaza to enter the EU without duties and almost quota-free.

This agreement comes at a very important and highly symbolic moment, when we are dealing with the issue of Palestinian statehood in the international community. Regardless of whether the Palestinian people obtain their legitimate statehood in the coming months or sometimes later, the state of their economy will be a crucial factor in determining whether there can be sustainable peace between Palestine and Israel.

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It is naive to expect that a population will be peaceful and law-abiding when most of its people do not have bread on their tables and their children live in poverty.

The current level of trade between the EU and the Palestinian territories is extremely low. We import only slightly more than €6 million worth of Palestinian goods, of which more than 70 percent consist of agricultural products. So the new agreement is likely to have substantial impact on the Palestinian economy.

But our approach to the Middle East peace process and our policy towards its two main protagonists – the Palestinians and Israel – should be balanced. We should not be supporting one side at the expense of the other.

Pharmaceuticals

I have had the opportunity to work on both the trade agreement with Palestine and an agreement with Israel, the so-called ACAA (Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products).

The ACAA has been pushed around as a hot potato in the political corridors of the European Parliament since May 2010 due to the policy of certain political groups to sanction Israel over its alleged lack of commitment to the peace process.

The ACAA is an agreement of purely technical nature and concerns mutually accepted standards that would facilitate trade in pharmaceutical products. Some political groups say NO to the ACAA because they do not want an “upgrade of EU-Israel relations”.

Anyone checking the EU’s Action Plan on Israel, adopted in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy in 2005, would immediately see that reaching an ACAA with Israel was foreseen six years ago. So consenting to this agreement would only mean finishing what has been started, but not “upgrading” relations with Israel.

By keeping the ACAA on hold we are damaging our own pharmaceutical companies and incurring unnecessary additional costs to our health-care systems. Israel is a major exporter of pharmaceutical products, especially generic ones. The ACAA would mean generic products could enter the EU market much more quickly than is the case today.

According to different studies, the savings that the ACAA would bring to the health care systems across the EU vary depending on the specific medicine and the country of destination. But most figures point to savings of between €100 and €250 million per year.

It was about time the European Parliament showed some common sense and demonstrated that it can base its policy with countries beyond the EU on clear-cut strategy and reason.

The writer is vice chairperson of the European Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights and a member of the International Trade Committee of the European Parliament. She is a member of the European Peoples Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament from Lithuania.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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