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Saudis boycott US products

April 27, 2002
By Syed Rashid Husain
For Dawn Online


RIYADH, April 27: Boycott of US products has started impacting the sales of US products in the region as the campaign is gaining momentum.

A Sana'a, Yemen based pharmaceutical manufacturer, recently refused to establish the Letter of Credit for a container of an antipyretic active ingredient, after all the terms and conditions were agreed upon, only because the product was of US origin. Instead, the company is now looking at Chinese and other options.

Consumers-shunning US products, could eventually hit sales, contributing to a projected 10 per cent to 15 per cent fall in US exports to the Kingdom, some Riyadh based diplomats were quoted as saying.

US companies, from Coca-Cola to McDonald's Corp, sold $6 billion worth of goods and services to Saudi Arabia in 2001 and $3.7 billion worth to Egypt, two of the region's biggest economies.

The rush at some of the fast food chains, which used to do roaring business during the weekends, is visibly less. Even a number of young people, who made up the bulk of the customers at these fast food chains, have been witnessed avoiding them to some extent. An employee at a well known American franchised fast food chain admitted business is low these days. "Today from morning till afternoon, we had only two customers at our branch." Some people are starting to avoid American cars also.

In supermarkets, it was noticed that a number of people have begun to take care of the origin of the product. On a number of Arabic TV channels, many people ask Muslim and Arab governments to be more active in helping the Palestinians.

Over the past few weeks, several different blacklists of American products have been circulating in Jeddah and elsewhere in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. A manager of a super market in Safa'a district of Jeddah was quoted as saying: "Sales of American goods have fallen by about 20 per cent and this is set to increase over the next few weeks due to the rapid increase in the number of people who are joining the campaign," he said.

In the nearby Bahrain a leading supermarket announced it won't keep US products on its shelves. Consequently sales of the superstore increased rather than decreasing, as customers started flocking this particular store. This compelled some other competitors also to adopt the same policy.

In the nearby Emirates, women and journalist organizations seem to be on the forefront of the campaign, asking the resident to try and avoid the US goods as much as possible and instead try alternative options from other sources.

The campaign to boycott US products is not organized as yet. It is still spreading by word of mouth. There have been boycott calls in newspaper columns throughout the region, through internet forums, pan-Arab television programmes and gathering of friends.

Even the number of people booking to travel to the US during the summer holidays has slumped drastically. Reports indicate leisure travel has virtually stopped and business travel has declined by over 50 per cent. Travel industry sources have been quoted here as saying that unlike the past summer seasons when there used to be strong demand from Saudi families wanting to go to the United States for their summer holidays, the demand is very less now.

For travel to Orlando and other tourist destinations in the US, during the peak summer period, travellers used to book their seats much in advance, by late March or early April, the latest. Travel sources say that in past when would-be travellers came in April; they had difficulty in finding a seat on flights to the US or make a reservation for a villa. But now seats are available for travel to the US on any day in July, the peak of the vitally important summer tourism season.

Saudi Arabian Airline used to operate two flights a week between Jeddah and Orlando during the summer. This year so far, the SAA has not announced a schedule of flights to Orlando, apparently due to the less number of passengers on the sector.

US companies have been trying to pass on a message to the consumers here in the Arab world, in order to counter such boycott calls, that boycotts threaten thousands of Arab jobs and investors. Many US companies operate in the Middle East through local franchisees or joint ventures. "We no longer have a lot of allies in media or government or academia," a senior executive of a US multinational was quoted as saying here. Their message is definitely falling on deaf ears.