- Title: WEST BANK: West Bank olive wood industry threatened by Chinese imports
- Date: 17th December 2010
- Summary: VARIOUS OF OLIVE WOOD PRODUCTS IN SHOP, TOURISTS BROWSING PALESTINIAN OLIVE WOOD PRODUCTS VARIOUS OF OLIVE WOOD LOGS OLIVE TREES ISRAELI BARRIER WALL SURROUNDING OLIVE TREE FIELDS OLIVE TREES IN FIELD MORE OF ISRAELI BARRIER BY FIELD
- Embargoed: 1st January 2011 12:00
- Location: West bank, Palestinian Territory, Occupied, West bank
- Country: Palestinian Territories
- Topics: Industry,Quirky,Lifestyle
- Reuters ID: LVA9X4082039M3AZY4UKQ1F8W0QE
- Story Text: Olive wood factories in the West Bank ramp up production before Christmas -- but cheap Chinese imports threaten their business.
Christmas is peak tourist season in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, and for local craftsman that means a potential boom in sales of souvenirs.
But the festive cheer could be muted for the local handicrafts industry this year -- as a spike in cheaper Chinese imports threatens to undercut their trade.
"Not many people are buying, there is very little buying. And these days they've started bringing products from China, and selling tourists products from China. The Russians, for example, don't buy wood at all, they buy things from China, and this doesn't benefit us. This only benefits traders," Bshara Hawash, an olive wood sculptor, told Reuters.
Officials say hundreds of thousands of tourists are expected to spend this year's Christmas celebrations in the West Bank town, revered as the birthplace of Jesus.
And local craftsmen in more than 250 workshops are ramping up production of religious souvenirs -- like crosses and figurines -- to take advantage of the influx.
But this year homegrown souvenirs could have a fight on their hands.
"We have noticed that, these days, non-traditional items which have nothing to do with Palestinian products have entered shops selling Eastern souvenirs, and these have started competing with olive wood items and the local souvenir industry," said the head of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, Samir Hazboun.
Chinese products -- manufactured using cheap labour and exported in huge volumes -- have created tensions across the developing world, as inexpensive imports undercut local industries.
Maher Canawati runs a souvenir shop where traditional wood crucifixes and Nativity scenes sit alongside Chinese-made figurines.
"The Chinese products that we import do not include olive wood. We do not import olive wood from China but we import cheap statues, so the low-income tourists can buy them as souvenirs from Bethlehem," Canawati told Reuters.
But in the battle of the souvenirs, olive wood craftsmen may have a handicap closer to home.
Bethlehem is now a dramatic example of the effects of Israel's separation barrier, made up of ditches, wire fences, and towering concrete walls. Israel says it has been largely successfully in stopping violent attacks against its citizens.
In Bethlehem, concrete slabs up to 8 metres (25 feet) high jut up abruptly against homes and storefronts, isolating the community and cutting through streets. The road to Jerusalem passes through steel gates and open tunnels of tall concrete, looked over by Israeli troops in watchtowers Palestinians point out that this impedes the free movement of people and goods and stifles the local economy.
Israel says it needs the barrier to keep suicide bombers out of its cities.
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