The US and Israel on Wednesday discussed ways of advancing their economic ties as US Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew made his first official visit to the country.

“As one of the most technologically advanced and innovative economies in the world, Israel is an important economic partner to the United States,” Lew said in a joint appearance with Finance Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem.

“We look forward to taking concrete steps to liberalize trade standards, increase market access for agricultural products, and advance a new bilateral science and technology agreement, which would allow for close cooperation on innovation and research,” he continued.

Though no concrete plans were concluded in discussions held through the Joint Economic Discussion Group, the sides laid out plans to increase free trade in agriculture, ease restrictions on online commerce and continue dialogue on matching international standards in order to remove regulatory trade restrictions.

The parties also intend to promote cooperation in science and technological and cyber security.

Borrowing phrases from US President Barack Obama’s vernacular, Lapid said Israel had to look to its middle class as an engine of innovation and job creation.

“Like the US, Israel recognizes that we achieve growth not from the top down, but from the middle out,” he said.

He also reiterated the role of the United States as Israel’s most important ally at a time when ties have been stressed over Iran’s nuclear program and moribund peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

The friendship, Lapid said, “is not just an economic or military need, it is an existential need. It is one of the main keys to our success, one of the main keys to our security.”

Also on Wednesday, Israel’s chief scientist Avi Hasson signed industrial R&D collaboration agreements with Michigan and Ohio.

“We are extremely pleased by this ongoing vote of confidence in Israel’s economy, industry and innovation – which have become an international brand – from a large number of US states and companies,” Hasson said. “Collaboration agreements like the ones with Michigan and Ohio will contribute to the Israeli economy, job creation, advancing R&D, entrepreneurialism, technology, and more.”

In the coming weeks, calls for submission will be issued, inviting joint bids for funding by companies from Israel, Michigan and Ohio for R&D projects.

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