ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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Israel-UAE free trade deal takes force as customs agreement inked in Jerusalem

Netanyahu says pact will boost business between nations, ‘bring down the cost of living’; 96% of traded products to be exempt from customs

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

In this handout phot, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauds as Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohamed al-Khaja exchange signed copies of the custom agreement between the countries, March 26, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
In this handout phot, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauds as Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohamed al-Khaja exchange signed copies of the custom agreement between the countries, March 26, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

With the bilateral diplomatic relationship coming under strain, UAE-Israel economic ties took an important step forward on Sunday, as the two side signed the final, and most important, component of a free trade agreement.

The customs pact was signed by Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and UAE Ambassador Mohamed al-Khaja in Jerusalem, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in attendance.

The Israel-UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement was signed in Dubai last May, but could not go into force until the two countries signed the customs agreement Sunday.

“This puts the meat on the bones,” an Emirati diplomat told The Times of Israel.

The customs agreement took months to conclude because the sides had to carefully go through every product and decide what would be covered.

According to the UAE, the agreement lowers or eliminates tariffs on more than 96 percent of tariff lines and 99% value of trade between the two countries.

Islands and jetties of the manmade Palm Jumeirah archipelago stretch out across the Persian Gulf in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, July 19, 2021. (AP/Jon Gambrell)

Israel’s Tax and Customs authorities were among the bodies participating in the talks.

They were concluded several weeks ago, but the signing ceremony waited until Netanyahu, Cohen, and Khaja were all in the country at the same time.

The agreement will go into force on April 1.

Netanyahu said at the signing ceremony that the agreement will “bring about a reduction in customs, will bring down the cost of living, and will give a shot in the arm to business between Israel and the UAE.”

“I am sure we will continue to expand the circle of peace with Israel along with other countries in the region,” he added.

The free trade agreement covers regulation, customs, services, government procurement, e-commerce, and the protection of intellectual property rights.

Some 96% of products traded between the countries, including food, agriculture, cosmetics, medical equipment, and medication, will be exempt from customs duty, according to the deal. A number of products will be exempted immediately, while others will gradually be granted an exemption.

The UAE and Israel signed a normalization agreement in 2020 as part of the US-backed Abraham Accords.

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