MEPs endorse controversial EU-Israel trade agreement
The European parliament has passed the controversial EU-Israel agreement on conformity assessment and acceptance of industrial products (ACAA) which will ease access for pharmaceutical products between European and Israeli markets.
The vote, which took place on Tuesday in parliament's Strasbourg plenary session, approved the report by 379 votes to 230, with 41 abstentions, and forms a technical addition to the 1995 EU-Israel association agreement.
Rapporteur for the agreement, and chair of parliament's international trade committee, Vital Moreira had pushed for the vote to be delayed to confront "faulty" elements of the deal, raising concerns that products from Israel's illegal settlements in Palestine could be included.
The ACAA had already experienced severe delays, with the European council first approving the deal in May 2010, while the EU concluded a similar trade liberalisation deal with the Palestinian Authority a year ago.
Moreira said the S&D group did not "oppose this protocol on its merits as a trade agreement, but because the EU's trade policies must be consistent with its foreign policy, as established by the treaties".
"Given our firm condemnation of the Israeli government's policy regarding the occupied territories, we felt we should not award Israel the bonus of improved trade relations," said the Portuguese deputy.
The ACAA removes the need for additional certification on pharmaceutical products for the importing country, facilitating access for Israel's highly developed pharmaceutical sector to EU markets, lowering the costs of medicine and bringing access to a wider range of generics for European citizens.
EU international trade commissioner Karel De Gucht, however, stressed that "the EU does not recognise Israel's sovereignty over the occupied territories (and as such) the EU will observe this distinction in the application of the ACAA".
The Belgian official also said that any products originating from Israeli territory from outside the 1967 borders would not be included within the terms of the agreement.
EPP group rapporteur for the ACAA Laima Andrikiene welcomed the results of the vote, saying that it would "certainly benefit European consumers" and recognised Israel as the "first country in the Mediterranean region to fulfil the basic conditions" of an ACAA with the EU.
Israel is the EU's biggest Mediterranean trading partner, with 2011 trade figures almost reaching €30bn, and Andrikiene stressed that this deal would also help the EU spread its "acquis communautaire to Israel, with a spill-over effect to other areas as well".
Head of Israel's mission to the EU David Walzer told TheParliament.com that he welcomed the agreement, which he said would "facilitate trade and remove trade barriers in industrial products to the benefit of citizens both in Europe and in Israel".
Walzer also recognised the European parliament's adoption of the agreement by a "vast majority" and said the results of the vote amounted to a 'yes' for "deepening the bilateral relations between the EU and Israel".