OQR team visits Gaza to discuss need to expand trade
Monday, Feb 09, 2015 in Office of the Quartet Representative
A team from the Office of the Quartet Representative visited the Gaza Strip last week to examine issues concerning trade from Gaza. Advisors met with businesses in the field of agriculture, food processing, garments and furniture, and also visited both sides of the Kerem Shalom crossing.
Movement and Trade Advisor Tim Williams said that the team found that “many Gaza businesses have managed to recover from the damage and interruptions caused by last summer’s conflict, and are managing to produce their lines. We went in to meet with businesses that used to trade with Israel and the West Bank to discuss their needs, and their readiness to restore this trade. Many of those we spoke to said that they are operating at well below full capacity due to lack of access to markets. OQR is working to improve their access to markets as quickly as possible.”
The team visited a strawberry-growing cooperative in Gaza and heard that even though strawberries grown in Gaza can now be sold in the West Bank, the total volume of strawberries grown this season was well down on recent years due to the loss of seed stock that could not be watered when the nurseries were inaccessible during the conflict. To make up for some of these losses, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) assisted with purchasing plants from Israel. Figures from recent years show that volume has been around 20 percent of what was grown when trade with the West Bank was relatively open.
Herb growing has become a successful Gaza agricultural enterprise, and OQR advisors visited a cooperative growing herbs and vegetables to hear more about this area. Farmer cooperatives in Gaza can now reach the standards required by both the European and U.S. markets and there is an active export trade – with potential for further growth.
A common issue raised throughout the visit was that businesses were not producing at their full capacity due to restricted access to outside markets. The owners of a factory that makes Chinese-style instant noodles, for example, said that when producing, they employ around 75 people, 50 of them women. But currently, it only operates around 10 days a month on reduced staffing. It is the only Palestinian factory producing the noodles, and the owners believe that if they could sell in the West Bank, they would be able to operate full time. The factory was damaged during the summer conflict; major repairs were undertaken and while the noodle line is back in operation, the machinery for making biscuits, pasta and wafers has not yet been repaired. The same company used to also produce batteries and school notebooks, but the plant for these lines was totally destroyed.
The team also visited both sides of the Kerem Shalom crossing, and was briefed by the respective operators on the efforts to expand capacity and enable increased trade, which would have a positive knock-on effect for the Palestinian economy, particularly in Gaza.