Israel critics defeated as European Parliament votes in favor of trade agreements

24 October 2012

 After a more than a two years of delay, the European Parliament on Tuesday approved technical agreements that will make it easier to export Israeli pharmaceuticals and other goods to the 27 EU member countries. The Agreements on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA) was adopted with 379 in favor and 230 against. It will eliminate a number of technical barriers to trade, thereby increasing the accessibility of Israeli pharmaceuticals to EU markets. Medicinal products certified in the EU will be considered certified in Israel and vice versa under the agreement, which is a protocol to the 1995 EU-Israel Association Agreement.

This mutual recognition of certificates will remove technical barriers to trade, cutting manufacturers' costs and enabling them to get their products to market faster. It will apply to all pharmaceuticals except for advanced therapy products, special medicinal products based on tissues and cells of human origin and medicinal products that include blood products.

Several left-leaning members of the European assembly held up the text for months because of political reasons. Despite a tense atmosphere in the chamber, a motion by the fierce Israel critic Veronique de Keyser, a Belgian Socialist MEP, to send the text back to the committee where it had already been under discussion for two and a half years, was denied by the plenary.

Lithuanian Christian Democrat member Laima Andrikiene was among several MEPs spoke in support of the agreement, asserting it was “a relief” to see that it had finally made it to a vote by the plenary after being held up in committee stage for the past two and a half years. ACAA, she said, was “an agreement for the good of the EU and Israel”, adding that “it is in the EU’s interests to get Israel’s legislation and standards closer to ours”. She added that the agreements were not limited in their application to Israel but stressed that the Jewish state was the first country in the region to meet requirements for an ACAA agreement.

The rapporteur on the issue from the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Portuguese Socialist MEP Vital Morera, had opened the debate by contending that the ACAA was "faulty" because it did not make it clear whether the agreement would include products originating from Israeli settlements (which the EU says are in breach of international law and which it does not recognize as belonging to the Jewish state).

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht dismissed concerns relating to the protocol, insisting that its intention was only to “eliminate the need for conformity assessment procedures, to reduce costs and time” for healthcare industries. Confirming that the EU would continue to abide by its international obligations as determined by international courts, he added that “the EU does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied territories” and that it would “observe this distinction in the application of the ACAA”. Any products originating from post-1967 Israeli territory would not be included in the terms of the agreement, De Gucht said.

Daniel Schwammenthal, director of the Transatlantic Institute in Brussels, lamented the stalling tactics of the Israel critics. “At its core, this was not a debate on the merits of the agreement. This was about politics. Some members of the European Parliament were putting their disagreements with Israel ahead of their obligations to ensure their constituents had fast access to the best and most affordable healthcare,” Schwammenthal told the ‘Jerusalem Post’. He added that Israel’s pharmaceutical companies were “at the cutting edge of research, finding innovative treatments that help save lives and reduce suffering.”

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