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What Isolation? Israel Boosts Ties with China, Latin America

Two recent reports demonstrate that Israel, far from being isolated, is expanding its economic and diplomatic ties around the world. On Sunday, the Israeli cabinet announced an initiative to boost its trade ties with Latin America, particularly with the nations of the Pacific Alliance. On Monday, Tel Aviv University and Tsinghua University in Beijing announced an agreement to build a joint research center.

The Jerusalem Post reported on the Latin American trade agreement:

The government on Sunday approved a three-year NIS 50 million plan to strengthen its economic ties with at least five Latin American countries, meant to help Israel decrease its dependency on Europe as the primary trading partner.

The plan focuses on Costa Rica and the four countries that make up the Pacific Alliance – Columbia, Mexico, Chile and Peru.

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs explains the appeal of expanding trade with these nations:

The combined GDP of the Pacific Alliance Nations is approximately $3 trillion and constitutes 40% of Latin America’s GDP. They form the sixth largest economy in the world, concentrate 50% of Latin America’s trade and 26% of its foreign investments (over $70 billion). The average growth of its member states is 5% and imports are expected to grow by 6% per annum. There is great demand in Latin America, especially among the Pacific Alliance member states, for Israeli technology and expertise in fields such as – inter alia – infrastructures, agriculture and science. In 2012, Israeli exports to Pacific alliance member states was just over $1 billion, approximately 2% of Israel’s total commercial exports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu observed:

We are making a very concentrated and focused effort to vary our markets, from our previous dependence on the European market, to the growing Asian and Latin American markets, in which Israel needs to take a small market share and bring about growth, employment and social welfare in the State of Israel. This is a strategic and – I think – a very promising effort. It has already begun to show results and will continue to do so. I would like all ministers, each in his or her own field, to join this important effort.

Specific projects mentioned by the Post include joint space projects, boosting tourism from Mexico and Colombia, a joint agricultural fund with Mexico, and financial agreements with Colombia, Brazil, and Chile. Diplomatically, Israel intends to boost its embassies in Mexico, Columbia, and Costa Rica, and reopen its embassy in Paraguay.

The Times of Israel reported about the academic agreement between the Israeli and Chinese universities:

Tel Aviv University announced on Monday a partnership with Beijing’s Tsinghua University to invest $300 million to establish the XIN Research Center, intended to research early-stage and mature technologies in biotech, solar energy, water and environmental technologies. TAU officials say they hope the center will cement ties between the two countries and create opportunities for tech advancement in both countries. …

Both governments provided funding for the project, a TAU spokesperson said, but most of the money came from private sources in both countries. The center should evolve into one of the biggest academic R&D centers in either country, with the institutions focusing on both early-stage research and projects that can be readied for the market.

The agreement, which will be formally signed Tuesday, is part of  what is being called “China Week” in Israel, marked by the arrival of at least 400 Chinese government officials and business leaders led by Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong.

Dozens of government officials and business executives are to meet Israeli investors and government officials on Tuesday at the first-ever Israel-China Economic Summit, hosted by the Knesset Hi-tech Caucus. All of them will later Tuesday and on Wednesday participate in the Tel Aviv MIXiii 2014 conference, the largest tech event to be held in Israel this year, where Avi Hasson, chief scientist of Israel’s Economy Ministry, will discuss tech and sign a trade agreement with Zhixue Wang, China’s vice minister for technology and innovation.

Prime Minster Netanyahu hailed the growing cooperation between the two countries as he welcomed Liu.

And this is a time that we also celebrate the great success and growth of the Israeli-Chinese cooperation and relationship. A year ago, I visited China. I had excellent meetings with President Xi and Premier Li. We have expanded our cooperation in many ways. China is Israel’s largest trading partner in Asia and fast becoming perhaps Israel’s largest trading partner period as we move into the future. We see the great success of China. We admire China and we think there are complementary things that Israel brings to this relationship. One of them is innovation.

Israel was accepted as an observer state in the Pacific Alliance in February of this year. The new push to expand trade with Latin America underscores the dynamic quality of Israel’s trading profile. Asia is poised to become Israel’s second largest trading partner this year, following only the European Union.

[Photo: Israeli PM / YouTube ]