The Fertile Desert
Middle East and North Africa laid down a welcome mat for
Michigan businesses at a recent trade forum.
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usiness at Vic Shanley's Ro-
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pretty much dies between
September and March.
So tapping into markets in the
warmer Middle East and North
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Ohad Marani, minister of economic affairs, Israeli Embassy; Judith Barnett of the
U.S. Commerce Department; and Egyptian Ambassador Ahmed Maher El Sayed at a
recent forum on doing business in the Middle East and North Africa.
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Africa has been a boon for Corro-
sion Consultants Inc., Mr. Shan-
"In the Middle East, where it's
so hot, we view it as a huge mar-
ket," he said. But, "it takes a while.
You have to expect a two-or three-
year time frame."
His company manufactures a
fluorescent dye that is used to de-
tect leaks in air conditioning and
refrigeration systems in cars,
homes and buildings. Because the
product is environmentally sound
— it helps thwart the emission of
ozone-depleting freon into the at-
mosphere —he was able to obtain
credit guarantees from the U.S.
And, peace treaties between Is-
rael and her neighbors are today
making a region with an estimat-
ed 250 million people not only an
attractive market for investment
and exports, but an easier one to
That was the resounding mes-
sage last week at a daylong con-
ference on trade with the Middle
East and Africa. Mr. Shanley was
one of several local businessmen
who shared their experience with
participants eager to explore new
trade frontiers. The U.S. Depart-
ment of Commerce, the Michigan
District Export Council and the
World Trade Center hosted the
Truly, Mr. Shanley said, even
a 10-person operation can benefit
from forging ties with countries
overseas. Corrosion Consultants
Jordan, Egypt, the PLO, Bahrain,
Oman, Qatar, Tunisia and Mo-
rocco told the 100 or so people who
attended the forum that their
countries and regions are wide
open for business, particularly in
the wake of peace treaties. Free
trade agreements allow the free
flow of goods, tariff-free, and some
countries, like Jordan, exempt for-
eign companies that invest and
produce from taxation altogether.
"There has never been a better
time to invest in Jordan," said Na-
jwa Ali, assistant commercial rep-
resentative at the Jordanian
Embassy in Washington. She said
her government has set up three
zones from which companies may
transfer capital from country to
country and operate tax-free for
12 years. Phat inaceuticals, tex-
tiles, automotive assembly and
computer software are all good in-
vestments in the country, she said.
Egypt, which has enjoyed a
peaceful relationship with Israel
for years, is one of the top im-
porters of U.S. goods, mainly
wheat, machine tools and cotton.
The country imported $14 million
worth of products from Michigan
alone in the first three quarters of
1995. Egyptian Ambassador
Ahmed Maher El Sayed said ma-
jor trade conferences in Casablan-
ca and Amman have been "an
important foundation of the Mid-
dle East peace process," which
"must be respected, despite hor-
rible acts of terrorism." Later this
year, Cairo will host a conference
on intra- and inter-regional im-
porting and exporting.
"Only the private sector can fa-
cilitate what we're trying to do to
create prosperity," Mr. Maher
A poignant plea came from
Hasan Rahman, the PLO repre-
sentative in the United States. He
told the crowd that they'll find
cheap labor, an amenable gov-
ernment, tax-free zones and an in-
creasing intolerance of terrorist
elements should they decide to
manufacture or otherwise invest
in the territories.
"For years, the economy of the
West Bank was the economy of Is-
rael, which saw the West Bank as
a huge reserve of cheap labor," Mr.
Rahman said. A full 40 percent of
LT,' the Palestinian workforce is em-
ployed in Israel, which means
c . close to that number is out of work
because of the closure of the West
= Bank and Gaza.
But Hamas has lost support
among the Palestinians and the
quality of life in the territories is
much higher than even two years
"In 1993 and 1994 in Gaza, you
couldn't find restaurants. Today,
there are between 100 and 150.
And for the first time in 28 years,
the West Bank has traffic lights.
Schools and universities have re-
opened and curfews have been lift-
ed," Mr. Rahman said.
Legislation has been introduced
in Congress to create duty-free
zones in the West Bank and Gaza.
"We don't want to separate our-
selves completely from the Is-
raelis, but we want to achieve
economic autonomy," Mr. Rah-
man said. `This government has
to take off and become a full-
fledged state and overcome all the
hurdles created in the last 28
years. We still have to convince
American industry to come over.
We don't need huge corporations
but employment-generating in-
Setbacks in the peace process
are a result of a peace process that
is working, and if the commitment
to it wanes, fanaticism will flour-
ish, Mr. Rahman added.
Ohad Marani, the minister of
economic affairs at the Embassy
of Israel, brought the best news of
all the speakers. In the past five
years, Israel's gross national prod-
uct grew by 40 percent, to $90 bil-
lion, he said, and unemployment
dropped from 11 to 6 percent. For-
eign investments in Israel are at
$28 billion a year, and even
though Israel exports more than
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