Palestinian Trade Fair Aims to Strengthen EU-Palestinian Ties
Afif Safieh (Palestinian General Delegate to the United Kingdom and the Holy See), Sir Roger Tomkys (Chairman, The Arab-British Chamber of Commerce), Hanna Siniora (Chairman, European Palestinian Chamber of Commerce), Amir Dajani (SME Development Expert, Emergency Program for East Jerusalem SMEs), and J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
The first Palestinian Trade Fair has opened in London and Palestinian representatives are hoping that it will help create a demand for Palestinian goods in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe.
Afif Safieh: I would like to make three points about the Palestinian Trade Fair in London. Firstly, because of the vast drop in tourism into Palestine, our European customers have not been coming to the producers, so now the producers are coming to their customers in Europe. The European Union has been helping this exercise and last year we conducted Palestinian Trade Fairs in Berlin, Rome and Paris. Now we have one in London and I am sure they will continue in other European capitals. Second, most of the items on display are mainly Palestinian handicrafts, such as embroidery, craved wood, mother-of-peal, Hebron glass and ceramics…I also like to joke that in Palestine we also have oil, olive oil! The third point is that there are other events running alongside the Trade Fair. We have a special business session and I have great expectations for our meeting with the British business community. We hope to interest potential importers, so we can establish an effective mechanism for bringing Palestinian products to London and hopefully from London to the rest of Europe. We are also having an official reception for the opening of the Trade Fair and we are extremely pleased that the Mayor of London, Ken Livingston, will be our guest of honour.
Sean Curtin: How successful have the Palestinian Trade Fairs been in other European countries? Do you have any plans to hold such trade fairs in other regions of the world such as Japan, which contributes a lot of aid money to the Palestinian Authority and people?
Amir Dajani: The first three trade fairs were very successful and we learnt many lessons form staging them. We learnt to understand the needs of each individual market, the expectations about price and what can and cannot be sold, and the need for quality verification and other related issues. We believe the three previous exhibitions were successful and the loans we provided to the commercial company which managed the three events were repaid within a month. In fact, they paid the money back so quickly, we could not charge them interest.
Hanna Siniora: Japan has been one of the major contributors to the Palestinian Authority and we sincerely hope that we will be able to help develop our business links to Japan and Southeast Asia. The main inhibitor at the moment is the great distance between the two of us. In order for us to arrange this Palestinian Trade Fair in London, we had to find the right partner to host us, which in this instance was the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce. We ourselves have to manage on a low budget. We would very much like to find a partner in Japan that could help us to organize a similar event over there.
Sean Curtin: Do you not have any representation in Tokyo at the moment?
Hanna Siniora: We have a small delegation there at the moment, but its activities are limited because even for our diplomats, the budget is very tight. We are very grateful for the assistance the Japanese have given and are giving to the Palestinian people. They are very supportive of the Palestinian economy and a range of other activities. They are actually hosting one of the multilateral committees that concerns the environment of our region.
Sir Roger Tomkys also spoke about the British position on the Palestinian issue and British investment and aid to the region.
Roger Tomkys: All British governments have maintained adherence to Security Council resolution 242 and for a quarter of a century have linked this to the right of the Palestinians for self-determination…The need for aid is self-evident, but the aid can in no way be adequate for the conditions of occupation that prevail with over 40 percent unemployed, even higher in Gaza, where 60 percent live below the poverty line. The UK is both bilaterally, and through the European Union, heavily committed to a programme of economic support and assistance in institution building. In financial terms the UK gave support to Palestine which reached 16 million pounds in financial 2003/4, rising steadily from 5 million pounds in 1996/7. The expenditure to underpin UNRA [United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency] rose from 8 million pounds in 1996/7 to 23 million pounds in 2003/4, by far the highest national contribution within the EU. In the EU also within the Barcelona process, the UK continues to support emergency aid for political reform to the private business sector and for education. It is also a goal of the EU through the Barcelona process to set up a common Euro-Mediterranean area of peace, stability and shared prosperity. It is essential that Palestine, as an independent and viable state, can in the context of a negotiated and comprehensive peace settlement be an integral part of that prosperity. As the European Union, the British aid programme with all the NGOs, working in and with Palestine, will do all that we can to foster the economy of the West Bank and Gaza against all the odds.
I would like to add on a personal note it is a delight to see Palestinian artifacts on display at this Trade Fair. I married 41 years ago in Amman and tomorrow is our wedding anniversary. Among our treasured wedding gifts are the embroidery, pottery and glass from Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The above comments were made at the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce in London on 29th November 2004.
Palestinian Trade Fair in London
From: Tuesday 30th November to Sunday 5th December (10am to 8pm)
Venue: Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, 6 Belgrave Square, London, SW1X 8PH
Nearest Stations: Hyde Park Corner & Knightsbridge (Piccadilly Line)
Moderate Palestinian Prime Minister Visits London
Europe Report #72, 11 March 2004