In the wake of reports in The Jerusalem Post that several Arab countries are violating promises to Washington to end their anti-Israel trade embargo, a prominent US Senator is pressing for stricter federal guidelines to monitor Arab commitments regarding termination of the boycott.
In an e-mail to the Post, Senator Jeff Bingaman, ranking Democrat on the Senate's influential Subcommittee on International Trade, expressed dissatisfaction with the US Trade Representative's (USTR) efforts to assess boycott compliance by Arab countries, and said he hopes to see changes in this regard in the near future.
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"I have expressed my concerns to USTR that they need to do a better job of determining the level of compliance of countries that have made commitments to the United States not to participate in the Arab League boycott," Bingaman said.
"USTR has indicated that they understand these concerns and are taking steps to address the problem," he noted, adding that "I look forward to hearing more specifics on how they intend on doing this in the coming weeks."
Bingaman also said that, while he is currently inclined to give the USTR "an opportunity" to improve its reporting mechanism on the Arab boycott, he did not rule out the possibility of introducing legislation in order to bring about change.
In recent months, the Post has found that a number of Arab countries, such as Oman, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, each have continued to impose restrictions on the import of Israeli-made goods despite assurances given to Washington as part of free trade negotiations that they no longer would do so.
Nonetheless, the USTR remains adamant that the countries in question have provided them with assurances that they are not enforcing the anti-Israel trade embargo.
An Israeli official connected to trade matters, however, told the Post that countries such as Saudi Arabia are in effect hoodwinking Washington, promising to drop the boycott only as a means of ensuring passage of bilateral free trade deals in Congress.
Once the deals enter into force, he said, the Arabs quietly renege on their boycott-related commitments.
"The Arabs are making promises to the United States that they have no intention to keep," the official said. "A reporting requirement would be the first step in making clear that the United States will hold them to account," the official believes.
Asked by the Post to explain what criteria are used to assess Arab states' compliance with their pledges to drop the boycott, USTR Spokesman Stephen J. Norton said, "US Government agencies, including Commerce, Treasury and State, have specific reporting requirements on the boycott. USTR also reports on the boycott in the annual National Trade Estimate report on foreign trade barriers."
Norton added that, "The U.S. Government addresses boycott issues on a case-by-case basis according to the particular boycott issue at hand and the bilateral and multilateral commitments a country has taken regarding the boycott. Agencies consult in determining the most appropriate and effective action to take with a trading partner to resolve a boycott issue."
Senator Bingaman, though, said that he hopes a "renewed effort" by the USTR to monitor the Arab League boycott more closely will "result in more in-depth reporting and, ultimately, better compliance by signatories of Free Trade Agreements with our country."