The agricultural agreement signed between the European Union and Israel on Wednesday will achieve greater liberalization of reciprocal trade and boost competition and sales of Israel's food industry and exports to Europe, according to Israeli trade officials.
"The new agreement promises to enhance the potential of exports of the Israeli food industry," said Boaz Hirsch, Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry deputy director-general and director of the Foreign Trade Administration. "Israeli food companies can be expected to increase their sales to the European market, which caters to 500 million customers.
"At the same time, small and medium-sized food producers, who until now were not able to export to the EU because of quotas and high levies, will now be able to enter new markets following the improvement of trade conditions."
The new agreement was signed in Brussels by Ambassador to the European Union Ran Curiel and Christian Danielsson, Sweden's ambassador to the EU, on behalf of the EU. The agreement will come into force on January 1.
It amends the EU-Israel Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement and aims to improve access to the markets of both sides by the institution of additional mutual tariff concessions on processed agricultural products and fuller liberalization of agricultural fishery products.
In the processed agricultural-products sector, more than 95 percent of the products will be exempt from all taxes or levies. Considerable liberalization was undertaken regarding all areas of fresh produce, and approximately 80% will be exempt from all customs restrictions.
The Agriculture Ministry predicts that the new agreement will serve to expand agricultural exports - an important development, given that more than 60% of exports to Europe come from the Arava and Negev regions.
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said the new trade agreement would boost exports and create more employment in the periphery.
The agreement includes an array of benefits that will enable a significant expansion of food products exported to the EU without restrictions. Food products that until now were subject to entry restrictions to the EU because of quotas or high levies - including chocolates, baked goods, waffles, pasta, marshmallow, fresh salads - will be exempt from taxes and other levies.
Europe is Israel's most important trading partner in the agricultural field, but until now the sensitivity of the sector in Israel and the EU has limited the trade potential because of various trade quotas and levies. High levies on food imports to the EU have hurt the competitiveness of Israeli exports and in some cases have prevented their entry.
Currently more than 25% of Israel's agricultural product and more than 75% of its total fresh agricultural products are exported to Europe.
About $1 billion of Israeli agricultural and processed food products are exported to the EU each year, and 44% of all Israeli exports in the food industry are directed to the European markets. Half of all food imports to Israel come from the EU.