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Finland opposes calls for EU trade sanctions on Israel

Finland opposes calls for EU trade sanctions on Israel

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Finland opposes calls for EU trade sanctions on Israel

BRUSSELS — Finland wants the EU to continue trading with Israel despite growing calls for economic sanctions in view of the worsening humanitarian toll from Israel’s military operations in Gaza, its trade minister said Thursday.

“I personally think we should continue the trade with Israel,” Ville Tavio, Finland’s minister for foreign trade and development, told reporters ahead of a meeting of trade ministers, answering a question from POLITICO.

“We have reasons to do so. It’s a high technological country that has industries that the EU should be able to work with. And we also have some defense trade with Israel,” he said, adding that he doubts trade sanctions would achieve anything.

The comments come after EU foreign ministers on Monday discussed potential steps against Israel should it fail to comply with a ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) obliging it to immediately cease its current offensive in Rafah in southern Gaza. 

The ministers decided to convene an Association Council with Israel to discuss the country’s compliance with its human rights obligations under the EU’s trade deal with the country, which is part of the EU-Israel Association Agreement.

In a last-minute move, the issue was also added to the agenda of Thursday’s meeting of trade ministers, although no formal decision was expected to be taken.

Israel’s military said Wednesday it had taken control over a buffer zone along the border between Gaza and Egypt, giving it effective authority over the Palestinian territory’s entire land border. It also continued its deadly raids on Rafah, which amplified over the weekend as an air attack on refugee tents killed at least 45 Palestinians, including children.

While a number of countries, including Germany and Austria, are likely to strike a tone similar to Finland, others like Ireland, Belgium and Spain have been leading a push to exert pressure on Israel through commercial sanctions.

Peter Burke, Ireland’s trade minister, doubled down on his country’s call to re-open the EU’s deal with Israel.

“We’ve been very clear as a country that we want to examine the Israel-EU Association agreement,” he said in response to a question from POLITICO.

“There are significant clauses contained within that in relation to violation of human rights, in relation to our obligations under international law and upholding it,” he added.

“And we’ve seen the exceptionally distressing scenes in Rafah despite orders from the [International Criminal Court]. And it’s critical that we do examine that agreement and our relationship with Israel because this is a very defining moment in Europe.”

Since the beginning of the war following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks, countries have mulled several options to put Israel under pressure by commercial means. Amid growing reports of Israeli settler violence against Palestinians in territories occupied by Israel, Belgium earlier this month pushed to ban imports of products from those territories. The country’s development cooperation minister has also called for a European embargo on sending arms to Israel.

Europe is Israel’s largest trading partner, accounting for 28.8 percent of its trade in goods in 2022.

Camille Gijs contributed reporting.

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