US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s visit to Israel last week flew largely below the radar. And perhaps that’s because there is seldom a week that goes by in which a senior Israeli government official isn’t in Washington or a top US government official isn’t in Israel.
What’s different about Secretary Lew’s recent trip is that his focus was not primarily the political or security aspect of our bilateral relationship. Lew was in Jerusalem to close the US-Israel Joint Economic Development Group, an annual meeting of government officials convened to discuss US-Israel economic relations, an underserved pillar of our strategic alliance.
While US-Israel politics and security are among the most closely watched topics in Washington and around the world, the focus doesn’t extend as frequently to the economic and commercial relationship between our two countries.
And this is an aspect of our alliance that should not only be celebrated but should increasingly be a priority.
Since the signing of the US-Israel Free Trade Agreement almost 30 years ago, the US and Israel have been building a one-of-a-kind commercial partnership.
As American and Israeli companies work together to invent, develop and bring to market cutting-edge ideas and products, the relationship serves as a growth engine for both of our economies – creating jobs and new products with the potential to transform industries.
Yet the nature of the business relationship between the United States and Israel is changing. Much of what will define the relationship in the coming five years was unthinkable a decade ago, let alone three decades ago when the FTA was signed.
Today, the US and Israel are working together to guarantee an energy-independent Israel, develop cyber solutions to safeguard our critical infrastructure and global supply chains, and innovate in a wide range of industries from agriculture to nanotechnology. We need our public policies to keep pace with the dynamic changes in how we do business together. Last week, as economic leaders of our two governments met in Jerusalem, the US Chamber of Commerce led a delegation of American companies to Israel to explore how we can strengthen our business relationship.
Our close security, defense and intelligence ties have been meticulously built over many years through formal government- to-government mechanisms. The current dialogues between the US and Israel on economic issues, however, are limited to specific departments and ministries, are not centrally coordinated, and do not have a consistent or meaningful role for either country’s private sector.
As such, the business community proposes the creation of a strategic economic dialogue to bring together key government officials and senior business leaders to deepen cooperation on a range of commercial issues. This new dialogue would provide a framework for proactive efforts to enhance US-Israel economic cooperation, starting with trade and investment, energy, infrastructure, cyber security and innovation.
We encourage the dialogue to include the full range of US government agencies that compel an economic agenda, including, the US Departments of State, Commerce, Energy, the Office of the US Trade Representative, the National Economic Council, and the National Security Council, in partnership with their Israeli counterparts, such as the Ministries of Finance, Economy, Energy, and National Infrastructure, and the Office of the Prime Minister.
Such a dialogue would ensure greater involvement of the private sector in both countries to act as a public-private partnership that will bring together American and Israeli business leaders who will advise on ways to strengthen commercial ties between the two countries.
The US has similar overarching strategic economic dialogues with its major economic partners like China, India, Mexico, and Turkey, and they have proven to be important tools to forging closer economic bonds.
The US Chamber has already begun to develop a US-Israel private sector coalition in partnership with the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, Manufacturers Association of Israel, and Israel- America Chamber of Commerce. Creating this new mechanism between the US and Israel would not only elevate our commercial ties to reflect the central role of economic cooperation in the US-Israel relationship; it would also reflect the substantial and ever-changing relationship between two advanced economies.
The author is executive director of the US Chamber of Commerce’s US-Israel Business Initiative, the only Washington-based national program focused on advancing business partnerships between the United States and Israel.