UK firms plan to up West Bank imports

By Anshel Pfeffer, December 11, 2008
A Hebron shopkeeper selling traditional Palestinian products

A Hebron shopkeeper selling traditional Palestinian products

Representatives of British supermarkets and Palestinian export companies are to meet next week in London for talks aimed at enabling large quantities of produce from the West Bank to be sold on UK high streets.

The plan, which is being supported by the Portland Trust, one of the main bodies promoting PA private sector development, and other British Jewish businessmen, aims to create a “food hub” to improve shipping and distribution and help smooth over security problems that disrupt Palestinian exports.

Senior executives and buyers of chains including Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Waitrose will meet the Palestinian businessmen who market the produce of hundreds of West Bank farms as part of a conference hosted by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

“The Israeli government and defence establishment have begun to take on board the importance of Palestinian economic development,” said Sir Ronald Cohen, chairman of the Portland Trust. “This understanding goes right across the public spectrum, all the way to [Likud leader] Netanyahu.”

The Portland Trust was founded in London in 2003 by Sir Ronald and Sir Harry Solomon. The trust has offices in Tel Aviv and Ramallah and an annual budget of £1.8m. It focuses on enabling the Palestinian private sector to develop better business practices and infrastructure.

Sir Ronald said: “There is now a perception that there are investment opportunities in Palestine that can provide a return and improve the standard of living of the population. And there is a real opportunity to achieve both those things.”

One of the trust’s major aims is to build at least 15,000 affordable houses around the main Palestinian cities, providing housing and boosting the building and infrastructure sectors.

Another project is a comprehensive study examining the ability of Palestinian companies to export to western markets. So far the companies surveyed have been found to be especially weak in their ability to project their brand, and thus to build their consumer base.

Last updated: 6:13pm, December 11 2008