'Netanyahu Latin America trip too short, too late'

Netanyahu left Sunday evening for Argentina, Colombia and Mexico, the first sitting Israeli prime minister to ever visit Latin America.

September 11, 2017 06:12
2 minute read.
'Netanyahu Latin America trip too short, too late'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, September 3, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Israeli business community has long been eager for a prime ministerial visit to Latin America, and only regrets that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit will be so short, according to Roberto Spindel, the head of the Israel- Latin American Chamber of Commerce.

Netanyahu left Sunday evening for Argentina, Colombia and Mexico, the first sitting Israeli prime minister to ever visit Latin America.

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Spindel said the business community is interested in the visit because Latin America is an “important and growing market,” and the BDS movement has found no real footing there. Latin America is a market that includes some 620 million people.

This trip is very important,” Spindel said. He added, however, that there is disappointment because the trip is a little too short, and a little too late.

By short, Spindel referred to the fact that Netanyahu will only be spending a day and a half in Argentina, just over three hours in Colombia, and only one full work day in Mexico.

Spindel said it’s a bit too late in the sense that next year there will be elections in Mexico, so the relationship Netanyahu has developed and will develop further with President Enrique Pena Nieto will not have much of a “shelf life” as he will be out of office next July. In Mexico, presidents serve for only a single six-year term.

While 30 businessmen will be joining Netanyahu’s delegation, this is much smaller than its potential. The reason for the comparatively small number, he said, is because of the brevity of the trip. It was only made public about a month ago, and people did not have time to plan accordingly.

Few businessmen want to pay the money to travel for just two days in Buenos Aires and one day in Mexico City, he said. By comparison, when Shimon Peres visited Mexico in 2013 as president, he was accompanied by some 80 businesspeople, he said.

According to Israel-Latin America Chamber of Commerce figures, trade with Latin America reached $2.8 billion in 2015, with Israel enjoying over a $1b. trade surplus. This, however, represents only 4% of Israel’s overall trade.

Israel’s largest trading partner in Latin America is a country where Netanyahu will not be visiting – Brazil, with trade in 2015 reaching $903 million. This is followed by Mexico, with $543m. and Argentina, at $259m. Argentina is one of the few countries where Israel has a small trade deficit.

Spindel said these figures do not represent the true scope of overall trade, however, since many Israeli firms who trade with Latin America do so from the US, and those numbers are not factored in the official trade figures.

The chamber of commerce head said in the last five to 10 years, there has been a great deal of interest in Israel by Latin American investors, as illustrated by the recent purchase of Netafim by Mexican firm Mexichem. More and more of the investors are not Jewish, he said, attributing this to a great deal of respect for Israeli technology in Latin America and the sense that Israel is a secure and stable market.

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