The U.S. government is reviewing the duty-free export privileges of six countries that have been accused of abusing workers' rights, said U.S. Trade Representative Clayton Yeutter.
The six countries, including Israel, have been targeted in an annual review under the Generalized System of Preference or GSP program that allows "developing" nations to export products to the United State free of charge, Yeutter announced Thursday.GSP beneficiary countries must comply with international trade union laws, and Yeutter's decision to review the six countries was based on petitions from labor unions, human rights and lobbying groups.
Meanwhile, Israel's right-wing Trade and Industry Minister Ariel Sharon rejected the review of Israel's duty-free privileges for alleged abuses of Palestinian workers' rights.
Sharon alleged that Palestinian trade unions are "cover-ups for terror organizations. They are not innocent workers' unions but front organizations behind which the PLO's political arm has been hiding for years."
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a pro-Palestinian lobby in Washington, has accused Israel of indiscriminately closing down union offices, arresting Arab labor activists and denying trade union protection to more than 100,000 Arabs in the territories who travel to jobs in Israel.
Last June the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee complained that Israel was denying trade union protection to more than 100,000 Palestinians who travel daily from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to work in Israel.
The other countries to be reviewed are Syria, Burma, Haiti, Liberia and Malaysia.
The AFL-CIO filed the petitions against Syria, Burma and Malaysia, the United Electrical Workers complained about Haiti and an international lawyers group submitted the petition against Liberia.
"My decision to accept or reject these petitions was made after careful and deliberate consideration," Yeutter said in a statement. He added that "the acceptance of these petitions does not prejudge our final determination."
Yeutter rejected petitions to review the GSP rights of El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Turkey.
If the countries lose their duty-free privileges Israel, which in 1987 exported $487 million worth of goods under the GSP program, would lose the most.
A free-trade agreement between Israel and the United States already exempts some Israeli exports from duty, but that 1986 pact is being phased in over a 10-year period and still does not cover hundreds of items.
Malaysia also stands to lose, having exported $347 million in goods under terms of the GSP, while the others exported smaller amounts.
Currently, the United States grants duty-free treatment to about 3,000 products from 136 countries.