Menendez last month released a statement saying he supported exemptions before the allegations linking bin Laden to gum arabic. "If these reports are confirmed I am prepared to withdraw my support for an exemption for gum arabic from the Sudan sanctions," he said.
Asked if the congressman was concerned the exemption will also benefit terrorist-supporting Sudan, Hal Connolly, the congressman's spokesman said: "I don't know enough to actually comment on that."
"Extending the exemption makes sense," said Larry Neal, a spokesman for Gramm, who quickly pointed out the lack of evidence linking bin Laden to gum arabic. If a connection is found the senator "would reassess" his support for the amendment, said Neal.
What about supporting Sudan? "I guess you'd have to ask all the folks who need gum arabic how important it is," he said. "I assume it's important to The Sun."
Gum arabic is used in the chemical preservatives that keep newspaper printing plates moist. The National Newspaper Association, whose members include The Sun and 95 percent of American newspapers, supports the continued access to Sudanese gum arabic, said Paul J. Boyle, director of government affairs for the association.
While the association provided information to both the State and Commerce departments about the need for Sudanese gum arabic, he said, it was not actively involved in the lobbying campaign. "It's not used as heavily in our industry," he said. "We're so far removed."
Most of the gum arabic is used in the food and pharmaceutical industry, said Shirley Christian, business manager for Frutarom Meer Corporation of North Bergen, N.J., which imports and processes about 500 metric tons of gum arabic from Sudan each year. Another New Jersey company, Importers Service Corp., is licensed to bring in 1,500 metric tons this year.
"You try to get it from Sudan because it has a quality" lacking from both Chad and Nigeria, said Christian. "It's quite essential to our business." Christian said she has been dealing with the Gum Arabic Co. since its inception in 1969 and believes the company's statements about bin Laden. "They categorically deny any association with this creep," she said.
As for charges that Sudan supports terrorism, she said "Of course it concerns me. I don't know if it's true."
Jim Finkelstein, executive vice president of the National Soft Drink Association, which is pressing Congress to extend the gum arabic exemption, also brushed aside questions about Sudan. "I don't have any comment," he said. "The soft drink industry is going to comply with the law."
Although U.S. businesses are still bringing in gum arabic, imports of the resin from Sudan have dropped 14 percent over last year, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Gum arabic imports through June of this year were $2.4 million, down from $2.8 million from the same period last year.
Karam, of the Gum Arabic company, estimates that about $6 million to $7 million (or 4,000 to 5,000 tons) worth of Sudanese gum arabic has reached the United States. Since the trade embargo, he said, Sudan's gum arabic exports to France have increased.
"And we know that the biggest market for France is the United States," said Karam. "We know Sudanese gum is going to the United States through other channels.'
One U.S. importer of gum arabic that is looking elsewhere for the gum additive is TIC Gums of Belcamp, Md. The firm is doing so even though it has an exemption this year for imports.
The company began to look to other African countries for gum arabic several years ago, said Stephen A. Andon, president of TIC Gums.
"TIC Gums has not imported one pound of gum arabic from the Sudan in 1998," Andon said in a statement. "Although we have the right to do so, TIC Gums will not import any Sudanese gum arabic until the U.S. government is satisfied that doing so does not jeopardize American lives."
But Karam, the Sudanese businessman, questions the point of a trade embargo that hasn't kept gum arabic out of the United States and probably couldn't because of the ability to export through another country. "The United States is one of our markets -- it's not our only market," said Karam. "Gum will be there, but it will be there at a higher cost."
Pub Date: 9/15/98