Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Saudi Arabia becomes WTO member
Associated Press, THE JERUSALEM POST Nov. 11, 2005

The World Trade Organization on Friday approved Saudi Arabia's bid to become the 149th member of the global body, winding up a 12-year negotiating process slowed by the country's participation in the Arab League boycott of Israel.

The acceptance by all WTO members is necessary before a new member can be admitted, and Saudi Arabia made a number of agreements with different countries on opening up its markets.

Itzhak Levanon, Israel's ambassador to the WTO, said Saudi Arabia had provided sufficient guarantees in its accession process that it would follow the WTO's rules, which include "not having a boycott against anyone else inside the organization."

"Such types of boycotts within the WTO are totally unacceptable," Levanon told The Associated Press. "As soon as Saudi Arabia accepted all these rules, the door has been open for future relations when the moment is ready for that."

But Prince Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia's assistant minister for petroleum affairs, was less clear: "They are a member and we are a member. We are just there as members of the WTO. Nothing more."

Saudi Arabia got Washington's approval for its membership in September. US Trade Representative Rob Portman said then that the US agreed based on negotiations that included in part the oil-rich kingdom's agreement to have trade relations with all WTO members.

WTO chief Pascal Lamy welcomed the new membership, saying, "it's good for Saudi Arabia, it's good for Saudi Arabia's trading partners and it's good for the organization."

By extending membership to Saudi Arabia "The WTO truly becomes a 'World Trade Organization,"' Lamy said. "It is the world's 13th largest merchandise exporter and the 23rd largest importer."

"One more heavyweight around the table (is) good news," he said.

Saudi Arabia will become a member on Dec. 11, two days ahead of the organization's Hong Kong ministerial summit, said WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell. At that meeting WTO members are supposed to agree on an outline deal to boost the world's economy by lowering trade barriers.

"Saudi Arabia has always believed in a free economy and liberal market operations," Saudi Trade and Industry Minister Hashim A. Yamani said at WTO headquarters in Geneva. "The accession will further integrate Saudi Arabia's economy into the world economy."

Prince Abdulaziz said the accession would not affect oil prices, but would help bolster energy security.
Copyright 1995-2006 The Jerusalem Post - http://www.jpost.com/

Saudi Arabia lifts Israel embargo
TIDHAR OFEK and JPost.com Staff, THE JERUSALEM POST Nov. 15, 2005

In a move meant to pave the way for its entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), Saudi Arabia on Tuesday cancelled its economic embargo against Israel, itself a WTO member state.

Under the bylaws of the WTO charter, no member nation may impose an economic embargo on another member state. As a member of the Arab League, Saudi Arabia participated in a joint embargo on Israel for many years, despite its desire to enter the organization. During 12 years of negotiations with the WTO, the Arab nation refused to lift its embargo against Israel - until today.

The Industry, Trade, and Labor Ministry said that in the near future a number of major international electronic, automotive, and foodstuff companies will begin business relationships with Israeli firms as a result of the lifting of the embargo. A spokesperson of the ministry stressed that although the embargo's effects as of late were minimal, the move still represented a major step that would encourage international investment in Israel and increase its exports.

The lifting of the embargo also suggested that Israel and Saudi Arabia would commence business and trade relations.

Head of the foreign trade wing of the Industry, Trade, and Labor Ministry Yair Shiran said that the Saudi decision set an especially important precedent, considering the fact that a number of Arab nations were in the process of acquiring WTO themselves. Any Arab nation wishing to become a WTO member country would unequivocally be required to forego the Arab League's embargo of Israel.

The Saudi decision was the result of its renewed dialogue with the United States in order to gain acceptance into the organization. As part of the newly improved US-Saudi relations, a joint committee was to be formed consisting of both Saudi and American representatives, including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The committee will convene to discuss military and terror-related issues, as well as economic and energy matters.

Next month Saudi Arabia will be formally accepted into the organization. WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy welcomed Saudi Arabia's entrance, saying, "Today's decision is a historic event for the WTO."

Copyright 1995-2006 The Jerusalem Post - http://www.jpost.com/

Exclusive: Saudi Arabia will host Israel boycott event

Despite a promise made to Washington last November to drop its economic boycott of Israel, Saudi Arabia plans to host a major international conference next week aimed at promoting a continued trade embargo on the Jewish state, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

The Post also found that the kingdom continues to prohibit entry to products made in Israel or to foreign-made goods containing Israeli components, in violation of pledges made by senior Saudi officials to the Bush administration last year.

"Next week, we will hold the ninth annual meeting for the boycott of Israel here in Jidda," Ambassador Salem el-Honi, high commissioner of the Organization for the Islamic Conference's (OIC) Islamic Office for the Boycott of Israel, said in a telephone interview.

"All 57 OIC member states will attend, and we will discuss coordination among the various offices to strengthen the boycott," he said, noting that the meeting is held every March.

The OIC, consisting of 57 Muslim countries, is based in Jidda, as is its boycott office.

Honi, a former Saudi diplomat, has headed the boycott office for the past four years.

The scheduled gathering is listed on the OIC's official Web site in a section entitled "Provisional Calendar of Meetings."

Hamed Salah a-Din, of the OIC General Secretariat, confirmed in a telephone interview that the conference would take place from March 13 to 15, describing it as "our regular annual meeting about the boycott."

The Saudi decision to host the parley appears to run counter to assurances that Riyadh gave the Bush administration when Saudi Arabia was seeking entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO).

On November 11, the WTO's ruling general council voted to grant Saudi Arabia entry into the prestigious group, which aims to promote international free trade, after it agreed to scrap restrictions on doing business with Israel.

Christin Baker, the assistant US trade representative for public and media affairs, told the Post via e-mail that the US had "ensured that Saudi Arabia in its recent accession to the WTO has taken on all rights and obligations with respect to all WTO members, including Israel."

"Saudi Arabia," she said, "did not invoke the non-application provisions of the WTO agreement with respect to any member," meaning that it must treat all members equally, "including Israel."

Likewise, in hearings last month before the US Senate Finance Committee, US trade representative Rob Portman insisted that the Saudis "have a responsibility to treat Israel as any other member of the WTO."

"We've received assurances from Saudi Arabia," Portman said in separate testimony before the US House of Representatives' Ways and Means Committee. "They will abide by their WTO commitments."
Nonetheless, the Post has found, Saudi customs officials continue to enforce the boycott, asserting that no Israeli-made goods be allowed into the country.

"Absolutely not - if it is from Israel it is not allowed," Hamad Abdul Aziz of the Saudi Customs Department at Jidda's Islamic seaport said by phone. "I checked with my manager, and he said it is completely forbidden."

Similarly, a Saudi customs official at King Abdul Aziz Airport outside Jidda also said that Israeli goods were not allowed into the kingdom. "It is prohibited," he said. "It is not allowed to bring any goods made in Israel, whether the whole item or only part of it was made there. That is the rule."

In December, just weeks after being allowed into the WTO, Saudi officials were quoted in the Arab press as insisting that the boycott of Israel would continue. This has raised concerns in Washington that the Saudis are not planning to live up to their commitment.

Baker revealed to the Post that "a team of anti-boycott experts from the US departments of Commerce and State has been visiting the region to discuss efforts to eliminate the boycott."

She added that later this month, "a senior USTR official plans to visit Saudi Arabia and will again seek assurances that Saudi Arabia understands and remains committed to its WTO obligations."

Copyright 1995-2006 The Jerusalem Post - http://www.jpost.com/

2006 News Story

Arab League foreign ministers conclude meeting in Cairo

The Arab League Council of Foreign Ministers concluded its meeting in Cairo yesterday. The Saudi delegation was led by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Nizar Madani.

The Council reaffirmed that the Arab Peace Initiative is the only way to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in the region. The ministers stressed that the Palestinian Authority is a full partner in the peace process.

The Council called on Iran to reconsider its rejection of a peaceful resolution of the dispute between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Iran over three Arabian Gulf islands (Lesser and Greater Tunb and Abu Mousa), currently occupied by Iran.

2005 Foreign Relations News Story

King Abdullah hosts former President Bush
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz met with former US President George H.W. Bush yesterday, and held a dinner in his honor. Former President Bush left today after a two-day visit to the Kingdom.

Commerce Minister: Kingdom will honor its WTO commitments
In remarks to the press, Minister of Commerce and Industry Dr Hashem Yamani again highlighted the importance of Saudi Arabia’s admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO). He stressed the Kingdom’s intent to honor its commitments towards the WTO, including cutting agricultural subsidies by 13.3 percent next year as well as reducing tariffs on some commodities.

Yamani headed Saudi Arabia’s delegation to the WTO meeting in Hong Kong, the Kingdom’s first as a full member of the organization since officially entering the trade organization on December 11.


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