MEPs vote to remove drug trade barriers

A major new agreement to open up the trade in medicines between Israel and the European Union has been hailed as a significant victory over the boycott movement.

The deal removes barriers to trade in pharmaceuticals in both directions, and will have a direct effect on Britain by making Israeli medicines more quickly and more cheaply available in this country.

Anti-Israel activists had campaigned for 30 months to prevent the treaty passing in the European Parliament. They argued that it would “reward” Israel for its alleged violations of international law.

But the Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA) was this week approved 379-230 by MEPs.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (LDFoP) had put intense pressure on Lib Dem MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford to withdraw her support for ACAA, arguing that it was inconsistent with her role as the party’s justice and human rights spokeswoman and calling for her to resign from the post.

John McHugo, the chair of LDFoP, wrote to Baroness Ludford before the vote: “At a time when justice and human rights are more important than ever throughout the Arab world, those speaking for our party on these issues have to show consistency and that they understand, respect and support legitimate Palestinian demands. You now have no credible option but to stand down as our spokeswoman on justice and human rights.”

But Baroness Ludford stuck to her guns. In a strongly-worded response, she said: “It is a fallacy to claim that refusing an agreement, designed to make excellent Israeli medicines available more cheaply, will somehow help deliver Middle East peace. Blocking this trade will do nothing whatsoever for Palestinians.”

Dr Charles Tannock MEP, who led for the Conservatives in the debate, said: “The ACAA Protocol is not about human rights, the Occupied Territories, or Israel’s approach to the Middle East peace process. It is about trade and unblocking the technical barriers that exist between producers and consumers.”

David Saranga, Israel’s head of mission to the European Parliament, said: “The main problem was bringing the issue to the vote, and it is significant that people across the political spectrum voted in favour.

“It was a huge margin and we were very happy to see it. MEPs understood that Israel is a very important partner for trade and innovation and they acknowledged that Israel has a lot to offer Europe.”

Last updated: 3:03pm, October 25 2012