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Omani Ambassador Discusses Israel, Trade

August 14, 2008 By:
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Hunaina Sultan Al-Mughairy

During a speech last week in Center City, Oman's ambassador to the United States lauded the 2006 free-trade agreement between the two countries, and urged for increased economic and political cooperation.

Hunaina Sultan Al-Mughairy -- a rare female ambassador from the Arab world, who's represented the oil-rich, Persian Gulf nation since 2005 -- also stated in her remarks that the sultanate no longer takes part in the decades-old Arab economic boycott against Israel.

Renouncing the boycott -- which had been eased throughout the 1990s -- was part of what paved the way for Oman's agreement with the United States and inclusion in the World Trade Organization.

Speaking in front of a room full of business leaders at the Pyramid Club, Al-Mughairy explained that Oman -- a country of more than 3 million people that borders Saudi Arabia, and is dominated by a branch of Islam that's neither Sunni nor Shi'ite -- is seeking billions in U.S. investment to help diversify its economy. Oman is a nation that's politically stable and has served as an ally on the wider war on terror, stated Al-Mughairy. The nation is hoping to reduce its economic dependence on the sale of oil and gas reserves, she added.

The program was sponsored by the Philadelphia-based Global Interdependence Center, a group that promotes trade and dialogue.

Currently, the United States has free-trade agreements with just 14 countries; the other Middle Eastern nations included are Israel, Jordan and Bahrain.

"For Oman, our trade relations with the United States has been really very small in absolute dollars," said Al-Mughairy, adding that imports and exports to and from the United States total about $2 billion.

According to Philadelphia's Department of Commerce, following the 2006 pact, trade between Oman and Philadelphia jumped 235 percent, to roughly $89 million.

For decades, Oman took part in the Arab economic boycott against Israel, which was organized by a central office in Syria, and had a crippling effect because the Arab world essentially blacklisted any companies that dealt with Israel. In the 1970s, the United States passed a law forbidding American companies from participating in the boycott.

In 1994, Oman and half-a-dozen other Gulf States announced that they were no longer boycotting companies that did business with Israel, but were still refusing to trade with Israel itself. Oman and the Jewish state have no diplomatic relations, but they did exchange trade offices from 1996 to 2000, when Oman closed the operations after the start of the second intifada.

'Challenges Need to Be Met'

But has Oman really abandoned the practice of boycotting Israel, both officially and in practice?

"Oman does not formally apply the boycott," said Ohad Cohen, head of the commercial mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. "Nevertheless, from such a decision, until comprehensive and diverse large-scale trade, there are still some challenges that need to be met."

Cohen added that trade between the two countries is essentially nonexistent.

The 2008 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers also stated that Oman no longer applies the boycott, although the document noted that "Omani firms have reportedly avoided marketing any identifiable Israeli consumer products."

Susan Heller Pinto, director of Middle Eastern affairs for the Anti-Defamation League, acknowledged that Oman does not send a representative to Arab League meetings on the boycott. "However, at this time, there are no official trade deals signed between Israel and Oman, although both sides have put out 'feelers.' "- See more at: http://je.pliner.com/article/16846/Omani_Ambassador_Discusses_Israel/#st...

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