Boycott of Israel still in effect, Omani official tells ’Post’

The Jerusalem Post | Thursday, June 8, 2006

Boycott of Israel still in effect, Omani official tells ’Post’

By Michael Freund

Five months after signing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the US, Oman continues to restrict the import of Israeli-made goods despite a pledge made to the US that it would not boycott the Jewish state, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

"No, no. Products from Israel are not permitted because of the boycott," Mohammad Nasser of Oman’s Directorate General of Customs said by phone. "If someone brings products from Israel, they will be confiscated. You might put yourself in problems if you do that," he said.

Nasser noted that the customs department was merely following rules that had been laid down by Oman’s government, which he said were in line with the"Arab League ban" on Israel.

He added that even catalogs of commercial products that mention Israel would likely be seized by Omani customs authorities.

In January, Oman’s Minister of Commerce and Industry Maqbool bin Ali Sultan and US Trade Representative Rob Portman signed a free trade deal aimed at eliminating tariffs and other barriers to trade. The deal now awaits final Congressional approval before taking effect, though a number of Democrats have expressed concern over Oman’s labor practices.

As part of the talks, Oman had assured the US that it was not enforcing theArab boycott, and a press release issued by Portman’s office to mark the signing asserted that, "Oman does not apply the Arab League boycott ofIsrael." But a senior customs official at Oman’s largest airport insisted by phone that the Gulf Arab sultanate continues to bar entry to Israeli-made goods.

"No products from Israel are allowed," said Badr al-Mawari, chief of customs officers at Seeb International Airport outside Muscat, the Omani capital.

"If it is a personal item or two, they will probably not check. But if it is for marketing or to sell, then it is not allowed," he said.

Al-Mawari insisted that goods found to have been made in Israel would be impounded. "When you leave thecountry, you might get it back," he said.

In 1996 Oman and Israel agreed to open respective trade missions in the two countries, but they were later closed after the Palestinians launched the second intifada in October 2000.

The Omani policy of boycotting Israeli-made goods appears to run counter to its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization, which it joined six years ago. The international body requires its members to refrain from engaging in discriminatory trade practices, such as boycotts, against fellow member states.

keywords: geopolitics, Israel, Oman, US