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Saudi Arabia: biased business.

In 1974, faced with the prospect of seemingly endless multibillion-dollar trade deficits with Saudi Arabia, the U.S. government created the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation. The idea was to reclaim some Petrodollars by giving U.S. companies a jump in the race to deelop the sheikdom. A recent report on the commission by the General Accounting Office provides a rare glimpse of the cultural clash inherent in the U.S.-Saudi "special relationship," of which the joint commission is a key agent.

The most visible problem concerns the role of women. Although the commission is itself headed by a woman, Bonnie Pounds, Saudi tolerance seems to end there, and the U.S. government agencies that work with the joint commission aim to please. Therefore, the Interior Department withdrew its consideration of a woman to fill an advisory position with the Saudi Ministry of Agriculture and Water after learning of the difficult conditions she would face. According to the G.A.O. the department told her that "to pursue this matter would not be in the best interest of her career."

The G.A.O. also looked into the question of whether Americans working for the joint commission were violating U.S. law by complying with the Saudi boycott of companies that do business with Israel, such as Coca-Cola, Ford Motor Company, Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Xerox. Naturally, almost all officials interviewed by the G.A.O. denied using the boycott list, and the government sleuths could uncover no direct violations. But one former U.S. officials, in a moment of candor, acknowledged that "his group would not order from companies it knew were on the boycott list."

Who says Americans are incapable of sensitivity to foreign cultures and mores?

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Title Annotation:cultural clash on the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation
Author:Bird, Kai; Holland, Max
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:column
Date:Oct 6, 1984
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