Israel hit out at the European Commission Friday, November 23 over its warning to European importers that they may face customs duties on goods made in Jewish settlements in occupied territories.
"We are deeply troubled by this move, particularly as it was taken as Israel had suggested ways of resolving" the issue, foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told AFP. He said negotiations on the issue had not been cut off, adding that the commission position "prejudiced the drawing of Israel's eastern border with the Palestinians, which should be decided in the context of a peace deal."
According to the terms of an EU-Israel accord, products exported from Israel may enter the EU duty-free, but those from the occupied territories are taxable because EU customs regulations are based on pre-1967 borders, said a commission spokesman in Brussels.
"It will be a warning that a dispute exists between the European Union and Israel," he said, stressing that products produced in the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, east Jerusalem and the West Bank must be accompanied by "certificates of origin." European importers, he said, could be charged duties on these by their respective national customs authorities on a range of products if it turned out they came from Jewish settlements in the territories.
Products originating in the settlements are taxable at rates ranging from 2.5 percent to 12 percent, while those imported from Israel may enter duty free with the exception of raisins, which are taxed at 2.4 percent.
The subject came up earlier this week at an EU-Israel association council at which rules on products originating in the Jewish settlements came up. The commission insisted that the question was not political, saying the warning to importers was "an administrative act."
The commission is recommending that the customs authorities of the member states demand financial guarantees from European importers to cover customs duties, should they fall due.
A commission notice to importers Friday warned of "the existence of certain substantial errors in the application of the agreements (between the EU and Israel) to the extent that the validity of all preferential certificates issued by Israel were put in doubt."
The commission notice warned that importers bringing goods from occupied lands could find that "putting the goods in free circulation may give rise to a customs debt." The notice to importers cited orange juice, in particular, saying certificates for importing it had been found to be invalid, and subsequently withdrawn by Israel. — (AFP, Jerusalem)
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