Israel and Russia will soon begin negotiations over a free-trade agreement aimed at significantly increasing the relatively paltry trade numbers between the two countries, government officials said Tuesday.
The agreement to begin negotiations on the matter was finalized last week at a meeting in Bali between Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Russia’s Minister of Economic Development Alexey Ulyukaev.
The move is part of Bennett’s stated efforts to diversify Israel’s trade, and not have the country’s trade so heavily concentrated on the EU, which is Israel’s largest trading partner. In 2012 Israeli-EU trade reached $42 billion.
According to government officials, Bennett views the EU as a key strategic economic partner, but feels that Israel cannot just rely on one relationship and needs to diversity to the east.
Since becoming economy minister earlier this year, Bennett has made four trips abroad – once to the US and three trips to the east: China, India, and most recently to Indonesia and Australia.
Israel and Russia did only $2 billion of trade last year, with the numbers equally divided into import and export.
Russia’s particular interest in trade with Israel is for hi-tech goods, while Israel is keen on breaking into the huge Russian market.
Israel is also interested in negotiating a free trade agreement with China, and the issue was raised during Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit there in May, though no date was set for starting negotiations.
Last year Israeli-Chinese trade reached some $8 billion.