Friday, 5 March 2010

What does “Made in Israel" mean?

When I am looking for exciting and interesting politics I tend not to immediately look through German Customs Tax Law, but last Thursday I had cause to reconsider. In an important ruling by the European Court the German exchequer managed to retrieve 20,000 Euros it has been owed by Brita GmbH. It gets more interesting from here as the reason why Brita must pay these import taxes is facinating:

There is an agreement allowing some imports into EU from Israel to be tax free. This European Court rulling states that goods produced in Israeli Settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory are not made in Israel, and therefore should pay import duties. Brita's products were made in the occupied territories so the court ruled tax must be paid.

A clear ruling from Europe’s highest court that the occupied territories are not to be treated as part of Israel is significant. Other details of the case are however more important.
  • The Israeli authorities when asked where Brita's imports came from would only confirm these goods originated in an area under Israeli responsibility and said nothing about the West Bank or occupied territories. Over the seven years of this case the Israeli authorities, despite having a preferential trade agreement with the EU, were at worst obstructive and at best ambivalent to the EU Tax authorities.
  • The Israeli Foreign Ministry’s response to the judgement was “Israel regrets a decision which authorizes the persecution of Israeli products made in Judea and Samaria and a constitution of the European political campaign against the settlements”. I can’t imagine this line is a prelude to renewed co-operation over tax law.
  • Brita GmbH stated that the imported goods were made in Israel, and pressed this point all the way through the appeals process; my German is not good enough to understand the court’s opinion as to the integrity of this statement.

Dr Phyllis Starkey MP in a UK Parliament debate on 10th Jan outlined how it is possible to ensure that settlement goods get a “Made in Israel” label and thus avoid both Import Taxes and potential consumer protests. She also provided evidence that Israel “turned a blind eye” to these practices despite enjoying preferential trade status with the EU [Hansard Link].

The UK is in the process of introducing a voluntary labelling scheme to give consumers information about where Israeli products are made. The question does “Made in Israel” also mean “Made in Illegal Israeli Settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territories” is still open.

Our friends in the Quakers are taking action on
settlement goods.