Foreign Trade Developments in the Middle East

Bahrain implements value-added tax (VAT)
Bahrain introduced VAT on January 1, 2019. It is the third of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to implement VAT at a 5% rate pursuant to the Common VAT Agreement, which was signed in 2017. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia introduced VAT in January 2019, and the others are expected to introduce it in 2019.
For more information, see “Bahrain’s Parliament Approves Draft VAT Law,” October 8, 2018,–, and “Insight: VAT in the GCC—Are You up to Speed?” December 6, 2018,

Iranian government authorized imports of foreign currency banknotes and gold jewelry
In September 2018, the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) relaxed currency rules and issued instructions to the Iran Customs Administration to allow merchants to import foreign currency banknotes and gold jewelry in order to slow the depreciation of the rial against the U.S. dollar. In December, the CBI lifted restrictions on imports of foreign currency by legal and natural persons. They now may bring any amount of foreign currency into the country without security service, law enforcement, or customs interference.
For more information, see “Iran Lets Money Exchange Houses Import Foreign Bills as Rial Sinks,” September 9, 2018,; “Iran Removes Limit on Gold, Foreign Currency Imports,” September 20, 2018,; and “Iran Lifts Restrictions on Incoming Foreign Currency,” December 11, 2018,

Iran prohibited exports of tomatoes
The Ministry of Industry, Mining, and Trade issued the ban on exports on September 24, 2018.
For more information, see “Iran Bans Tomato Exports until Further Notice,” September 25, 2018,

Iran stopped ban on imports of rice
The Deputy Minister of Agriculture announced the end of the seasonal ban on rice on November 28, 2018. The Iranian government typically bans rice for several months annually in order to support local producers.
For more information, see “Iran Ends Seasonal Rice Import Ban – Agencies,” December 2, 2018,

Iran banned certain agricultural exports in December 2018
The Iranian government issued the ban on butter, cereals, peas, brown beans, red beans, lentils, and other agricultural products on December 22, 2018, reportedly in order to help meet domestic demand.
For more information, see “Iran Bans Export of 17 Product Types,” December 22, 2018,

Exports of cement and other selected goods prohibited from Iran Mahirud border crossing to Afghanistan in December
The ban applies to cement, tiles, ceramics, iron, and fuel through the Mahirud border crossing point to the Farah province of Afghanistan. Export licenses for the products were valid until the end of the year. The ban is to be temporary.
For more information, see “Export of Goods from Iran’s Mahirud Border to Afghanistan Suspended,” December 24, 2018,

Iran Customs announced decrease in import clearance time for most goods
In December 2018, the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration (IRICA) announced that the clearance time for imports of 95% of goods would be decreased to no more than three days. Additionally, the process of releasing imported goods from customs control reportedly will be simplified in 2019.
For more information, see “Iran’s Customs to Release Detained Goods in Less Than 3 Days,” December 24, 2018,

Iran and India conclude preferential trade negotiations
The governments of Iran and India concluded the negotiations in December 2018. The talks envision tariff reductions on 80 to 100 goods from each country.
For more information, see “Iran, India’s Preferential Trade Finalized,” December 26, 2018,

Iranian government removes ban on imports of secondhand and repaired products
The Ministry of Industry, Mining, and Trade removed the ban on December 24, 2018. Imports of secondhand and repaired products may proceed, so long as the items are approved by the Institute of Standards and Industrial Research of Iran. The ban had been in place since October 2016.
For more information, see “Import Ban on Secondhand Products Lifted,” December 28, 2018,

Iraqi government agreed to remove customs checkpoints on roads between Iraqi cities and Kurdistan Region
The checkpoints on the Erbil-Kirkuk and Sulaimani-Kirkuk roads became operational in September 2018. The checkpoints collected customs fees for sharing between Kirkuk and the Iraqi government. However, in November 2018, the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) signed an agreement to close the checkpoints and resolve customs disagreements. The Iraqi federal government subsequently announced plans to unify customs operations on all borders, including with the KRG.
For more information, see “Iraq Opens Customs Checkpoints on Erbil-Kirkuk, Sulaimani-Kirkuk Roads,” September 23, 2018,; “Iraq Harms Trade with New Internal Customs Borders: KRG,” October 31, 2018,; “Customs Checkpoints between Iraq and Kurdistan Region to Be Scrapped: Official,” November 11, 2018,; “Erbil, Baghdad Sign Agreement to Remove Illegal Customs Checkpoints, November 20, 2018,; and “Iraq to Unify Customs Procedures with Kurdistan, PM Says,” November 21, 2018,

Iraq halted oil exports to Iran
In November 2018, the Iraqi government announced that it would stop exporting oil from the Kirkuk oilfield to Iran, in compliance with sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States.
For more information, see “Iraq to Halt Kirkuk Oil Exports to Iran, May Resume Them to Turkey,” October 26, 2018,

Iraqi federal government and Kurdistan Regional Government agree to restart oil exports from Kirkuk
The two sides reached the agreement in November 2018 for the export of 50,000 to 100,000 barrels per day. Exports were to resume immediately.
For more information, see “Iraq: Baghdad and Kurds Strike Deal to Resume Kirkuk Oil Exports,” November 16, 2018,

Iraq raises import duties on books
It was revealed in November 2018 that an import tax of 15% now applied to books. This became known to the public when the Iraq Customs Authority held dozens of containers of books from Arab countries at the Port of al-Faw until the duties were paid.
For more information, see “New Iraqi Tax on Book Imports Provokes Outcry,” November 22, 2018,

Quneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria reopened in October 2018
The crossing was opened for use by the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) after being closed for four years.
For more information, see “Border Crossing between Israel and Syria Opens for First Time in 4 Years,” October 15, 2018,

Israel closed and reopened border crossings with Gaza in October 2018
The Israel government closed the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings in response to a rocket attack, but reopened them four days later.
For more information, see “Israel Reopens People, Goods Crossings to Gaza after Lull,” October 21, 2018,

Israeli government considers change in defense marketing license requirement
The Israeli Ministry of Defense announced plans in October 2018 to allow defense companies to negotiate sales of unclassified weapons systems to 102 states without first obtaining a marketing license. Affected products would include certain night vision equipment, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and aircraft.
For more information, see “Israel’s Defense Ministry Eases Arms Export Rules,” October 31, 2018,

Israel prohibited exports of car tires to Gaza in November
The Israeli government reportedly banned the tires because protesters use them as cover to hurl projectiles at Israeli troops. The burning tires also create smoke that blocks the vision of Israeli snipers.
For more information, see “Gaza Demonstrators Hit by Car Tyre Shortage as Israel Blocks Imports,” November 1, 2018,

Small export companies receive tax breaks in Israel
The Israeli government provided lower tax rates to export firms with fewer than 10 workers. These rates previously were provided only to larger companies.
For more information, see “Israel Extends Key Tax Benefits to Smaller Export Firms,” November 7, 2018,

Israel enhances surveillance infrastructure on border with Lebanon
In November 2018, Israeli forces placed new monitoring and video surveillance equipment on the border with Lebanon between the Adayse hills and Fatima Gate.
For more information, see “Israel Installs Monitoring Devices on Borders with Lebanon,” November 8, 2018,

Israel Ministry of Finance maintains customs duties exemptions issued in 2017
Exemptions of 6 to 15% continue to apply to imports of clothing, shoes, smart phones, baby products, and other items.
For more information, see “Kahlon Extends Customs Duties Exemptions,” December 16, 2018,

Israel Ministry of Agriculture prohibited imports of fruits and vegetables from Palestinian territories in December
The ban was issued on December 18, 2018. The move reportedly was in response to a decision by the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture to prohibit imports of sheep from Israel.
For more information, see “Israel Minister Halts Vegetable, Fruit Imports from Palestine,” December 19, 2018,

Israel Ministry of Health restricts imports of vaccines to Palestinian territories in 2019
In December 2018, the Israel Ministry of Health began enforcing a 1986 Israeli law that allowed imports of vaccines to the Palestinian territories only from 10 specified countries. In late December, the Israeli government agreed to relax the restriction on imports of children’s vaccines.
For more information, see “MOH: Israel to Allow Entry of Children Vaccines to Palestine,” December 23, 2018,

Israeli Knesset approves bill that would allow exports of medical cannabis
The bill must be approved by the cabinet and prime minister in order to be adopted into law.
For more information, see “Israeli Lawmakers Approve Law to Export Medical Cannabis,” December 26, 2018,

Jordan Enterprise Development Corporation (JEDCO) initiates program to support small and medium-sized companies
The pilot program provides technical and financial support to companies to help them enhance their productivity.
For more information, see “JEDCO Launches New Programme to Support Industrial SMEs,” September 9, 2018,

Jordan reopens Jaber border crossing with Syria
The Jordanian government reopened the border crossing point (BCP) on October 15, 2018. It had been closed for three years, after it was overrun by rebels in April 2015.
For more information, see “Jordan Reopens Main Border Post with Syria after 3 Years,” October 15, 2018,

Free trade agreement (FTA) between Jordan and Turkey ended in November 2018
The Jordanian government terminated the FTA on November 22 and reimposed customs duties of 20 to 30 percent on Turkish products. The government of Jordan ended the agreement because of concerns that it favored Turkish companies at the expense of Jordanian firms.
For more information, see “Jordan to Impose Tariffs on Turkish Goods,” November 5, 2018,, and “Jordan Imposes Customs Duties on Turkish Imports,” November 23, 2018,

Jordan government negotiates with European Union (EU) to relax EU rules of origin requirements
The Jordanian government reportedly reached an initial understanding with the EU in November 2018 for the EU to relax the rules of origin for Jordanian exports to the EU. Officials from the Jordan Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Supply stated that the agreement lowered the percentage of Syrian workers a Jordanian firm must employ from 25% of workforce to 15% in order to benefit from simplified rules of origin in the EU.
For more information, see “‘Understanding’ Reached with EU to Ease Origin-Rules Deal Requirements,” November 26, 2018,

Jordanian government reaches agreement with International Organization for Migration (IOM) and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to enhance Karama border crossing
The parties signed the agreement on December 10, 2018. The IOM and UNODC will upgrade the Karama border crossing point (BCP) between Jordan and Iraq with funding from the European Union Instrument Contributing to Stability and Peace. The Karama BCP was closed between the summer of 2015 and August 2017 because of conflict in Iraq.
For more information, see “IOM and UNODC Sign Agreement with the Government of Jordan to Upgrade al-Karamah Border Crossing Point,” December 11, 2018,

Jordan and Iraq reach agreement on trade and energy
The governments of Jordan and Iraq agreed in December to ease transport through the Karama border crossing point (BCP), establish a joint industrial zone, exempt some Jordanian goods from Iraq duties, and reduce fees by 75% on Iraq-bound goods imported at the Port of Aqaba. The parties also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to establish a direct electricity link and finalize an agreement to build an Iraq-Jordan pipeline from the Iraqi city of Basra to Aqaba in 2019.
For more information, see “Iraq, Jordan Open New Chapter in Cooperation,” December 30, 2018,

Kuwait prohibits imports of food from Iraq
The ban applies to foodstuffs, including vegetables, fruits, dates, and drinking water. It came in response to a cholera outbreak in Iraq.
For more information, see “Kuwait Bans Food Imports from Iraq,” September 3, 2018,

Kuwait Customs and U.S. Department of Energy to cooperate on combating illicit trade in nuclear and radiological materials
The Kuwait General Administration of Customs and the U.S. Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) signed an agreement for cooperation in September 2018. Under the agreement, the NNSA will assist Kuwait Customs in augmenting its detection equipment and detecting nuclear and radiological materials at Kuwait International Airport, seaports, and land border crossing points.
For more information, see “Kuwait’s Customs, NNSA Sign Cooperation Agreement on Banning Nuclear, Radioactive Materials’ Trafficking,” September 4, 2018,

Kuwait allows imports of Australian melons and strawberries to resume
The Kuwait National Plant Protection Organization lifted the ban on Australian melons and strawberries in October 2018. It had instated the ban earlier in the year due to concerns about an outbreak of listeriosis in Australian melons and suspected tampering with strawberries in Australia.
For more information, see “Kuwait Lifts Australian Export Ban,” October 22, 2018,

Kuwait allows imports of Kenyan livestock to resume
The Kuwait government lifted the ban on Kenyan livestock in December 2018. It had instated the ban in November due to concern about high drug residue levels in imported Kenyan meat products. In response to the ban, the Kenyan government reportedly imposed strict sanitary measures in the animal supply chain.
For more information, see “Kuwait Lifts Ban on Kenyan Livestock Exports,” December 20, 2018,

Kuwait Ministry of Health prohibits imports of certain herbal medicines
The ministry imposed the ban on various species of the Aristolochia plant and Kava in December 2018 because of concerns about their toxicity to patients.
For more information, see “Kuwait Bans the Import of Several Herbal Medicines,” December 24, 2018,

Port of Tripoli and Chinese maritime transporter agree to open shipping line between Lebanon and China
The parties reached the agreement in November 2018. The shipping line, which was set to open in late December, will facilitate the export of Chinese goods to Lebanon.
For more information, see “New Shipping Line to Open between China, Lebanon’s Tripoli Port,” November 22, 2018,

Lebanon Customs streamlines customs clearance process
Lebanese Customs launched the new cargo clearance procedures in December 2018. The new procedures reportedly will decrease clearance time by over 10 hours. The procedures are part of a larger effort to simplify customs processes in order to facilitate trade and reduce corruption.
For more information, see “New System for Customs Clearance to Cut Cargo Process by over 10 Hours,” December 21, 2018,

Oman Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries prohibited imports of poultry and poultry products from Malaysia, Vietnam, and Cambodia in September 2018
The ban came in response to outbreaks of bid flu in the three countries.
For more information, see “Ministry Bans Poultry Import from Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia,” September 29, 2018,

Oman replaces paper air waybill with e-AWB
Oman adopted the electronic air waybill (e-AWB) in October 2018. The e-AWB enables traders and logistics providers to communicate with over 120 airline operators globally and facilitates pre-arrival reporting to customs.
For more information, see “Oman Adopts the Electronic Air Waybill (e-AWB),” October 2, 2018,

Oman government agrees to tax exemption for imports of Iran products
The agreement came in October 2018 following the visit of an Iranian trade delegation to the Oman capital of Muscat.
For more information, see “Iranian Exporters to Receive Tax Exemption from Oman,” October 14, 2018,

Omani Products Exhibition held in Nairobi, Kenya, in October 2018
The purpose of the exhibition was to expose Omani industries to East African markets. During the event, the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to develop and enhance trade cooperation.
For more information, see “Omani Products Expo Opens in Kenya,” October 29, 2018,

Oman announced intent to join TIR Convention
The Oman government announced its intent to join the Convention on International Transport of Goods under Cover of TIR Carnets in October 2018. TIR is an international customs transit system that enables the transport of sealed cargo under a TIR Carnet from a customs office of departure to a destination customs office without customs inspections in transit countries.
For more information, see “Oman to Realise Logistics Ambitions by Joining TIR,” October 30, 2018,

Palestinian Authority and Chinese government signed memorandum of understanding (MOU) on trade in October 2018
The two sides agreed in the MOU to hold free trade discussions.
For more information, see “China Begins Free-Trade Talks with Palestine as It Expands Its Influence in the Middle East,” October 24, 2018,

Palestinian Authority (PA) prohibits imports of Israeli fruits, vegetables, and poultry
The ban followed a decision by the Israel Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to stop imports of Palestinian fruits and vegetables to Israel. The Israeli decision was a response to a PA Ministry of Agriculture instruction to Palestinian meat sellers to stop purchases of lamb from Israel.
For more information, see “In Escalating Trade Fight, PA Halts Israeli Produce and Poultry Imports,” December 27, 2018,

Qatar allows imports of fruits and vegetables from Indian state of Kerala
In September 2018, the Qatar Ministry of Health authorized the resumption of imports of fresh, chilled, and frozen fruits and vegetables from Kerala. The ban had been in effect for over a month due to an outbreak of the Nipah virus in Kerala.
For more information, see “After UAE, Qatar Lifts Ban on Import of Fruits, Vegetables from Kerala,” September 3, 2018,

Qatar Chamber begins issuing ATA Carnets
The Qatar Chamber issued its first ATA Carnet to the Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani Museum in September 2018. The ATA Carnet allows for tax- and duty-free temporary imports and exports of non-perishable and -disposable goods for up to a year. Qatar joined the ATA Carnet system in August 2018.
For more information, see “Qatar Chamber Issues First ATA Carnet,” September 13, 2018,

Qatar announced decision to leave Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in January 2019
The Qatar Minister of Energy made the announcement in December 2018. The minister said that Qatar would focus on its liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry.
For more information, see “Qatar’s Energy Minister Says Country Is Pulling out of OPEC,” December 2, 2018,, and “Qatar Says It Will Leave OPEC and Focus on Natural Gas,” December 3, 2018,

Saudi Arabia prohibits imports of poultry from Nepal
The ban applies to imports of live birds, incubated eggs, and chicks. The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture reportedly issued the ban in response to concerns about bird flu in Nepal.
For more information, see “Saudi Arabia Bans Poultry Imports from Nepal over Bird Flu,” June 11, 2018,

Saudi Arabia allows imports of livestock from Somalia
The Saudi government lifted a prohibition on imports of Somali livestock in July 2018. The ban had been in place since September 2016 due to Saudi concerns about Rift Valley fever in Somalia.
For more information, see “Saudi Arabia Lifts Ban on Somalia Livestock,” July 3, 2018,

Customs Risk Management and Targeting Center opens in Saudi Arabia
The Saudi Customs Authority opened the center in July 2018. Its purpose is to enhance Customs’ risk assessment and cargo targeting capabilities.
For more information, see “Saudi Customs Authority Inaugurates Risk Management Center,” July 30, 2018,

Turkey to allow imports of Russian beef
The governments of Turkey and Russia reached agreement in early June 2018.
For more information, see “Russian Cow Meat Exports to Turkey Get Clearance,” June 6, 2018,

Turkey imposes tariffs on U.S. goods
In June, the Turkish government applied tariffs to U.S. goods valued at approximately US$1.8 billion. The decision was in response to U.S. tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from Turkey. In August, the Turkish government doubled tariffs on imports of cars, beverages, and tobacco from the U.S.
For more information, see “Turkey Hits U.S. With Tariffs on $1.8 Billion of Goods,” June 21, 2018,, and “Turkey Doubles Tariffs on Some US Imports; Lira Rallies,” August 15, 2018,

UAE prohibits imports of birds and related products and waste from parts of Russia
The UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment issued a ban on all species of domestic and wild live birds, ornamental birds, chicks, hatching eggs, meats, meat products, and non-heat-treated wastes from the central region of Kurskaya Oblast, Respublika Kalmykia, Astrakhanskaya Oblast, and Kostromskaya Oblast in Russia. The move was in response to a reported outbreak of bird flu.
For more information, see “UAE Just Banned Eggs from This Country,” June 19, 2018,

UAE allows imports of poultry from the Netherlands
UAE now will allow imports of live birds, meat, and eggs from the Netherlands. A ban had been in place since January 2018 reportedly because of UAE concerns about bird flu in the Flevoland province of the Netherlands.
For more information, see “UAE Lifts Ban on Poultry Meat, Eggs from This Country,” July 2, 2018,

UAE allows imports of fruits and vegetables from Indian state of Kerala
In July, the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment announced that it would allow imports of fruits and vegetables from Kerala, but the shipments must include a Nipah-free certificate. In late May and early June, the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait banned imports of fruits and vegetables from Kerala. The ban was in response to an outbreak of the Nipah virus, which can cause brain inflammation and respiratory illness.
For more information, see “UAE Lifts Ban on Imports of Fresh Produce from Kerala,” July 4, 2018,, and “Nipah Virus Scare: Fruit and Vegetables from Kerala Banned in Gulf,” June 4, 2018,

UAE prohibits imports of birds and related products from East Malaysia
In August, the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment imposed a ban on imports of all species of domestic and wild live birds, ornamental birds, chicks, and hatching eggs from East Malaysia. The ban reportedly was in response to an outbreak of bird flu in the Malaysian state of Sabah.
For more information, see “UAE Bans Import of Live Birds from East Malaysia on Bird Flu Fears,” August 9, 2018,

Dubai Customs introduces high-tech scanning system
The new 3D CT scanner was deployed at the Umm Al Ramool post office.
For more information, see “New Smart Inspection System at Dubai Customs,” September 1, 2018,