As trade encouraged by a financial protocol between the Israeli and Chinese governments rises into the billions of dollars annually, Israeli lawyers are tackling legal and cultural issues that arise in business between the two nations with greater perspective than ever before.
Ram Toren and Moran Yosef of Gideon Fisher and Partners explained in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post that the protocol, though also being used in trade with Vietnam, is not business as usual and is designed to soften up the market by providing loans on unusually good terms to companies doing business with China.
These “incredible” terms include initial payments of as low as 1.5 percent per year or 3.3% over 12 years instead of a more standard 15%, says Toren.
Yosef describes the protocol as involving Israeli banks providing long-term credit for Chinese industrialists purchasing equipment from Israeli manufacturers, focused on the medical, agricultural and water desalination sectors.
Israeli banks are insured by Ashra Israel Export Insurance Corp. Ltd., a government corporation, so that they are protected from the long-term debt they are financing, while China has made certain guarantees to the Israeli government about repaying the credit, she says.
Toren says that the medical sector, mostly focused on two particular Chinese hospitals, was the largest because the Chinese “respect Israelis brains and knowledge – when you speak to them, they say we are like gods” in producing medical technology.
He also discussed involvement in legal work relating to $300 million for exporting Israeli agricultural technology to China.
Toren states that without the protocol, at least hundreds of millions of dollars in business would not be happening.
But one of the most interesting aspects of the protocol is not just the volume of trade, but the unique legal-cultural issues faced by the lawyers negotiating the deals.
Explaining, Toren says that “it’s a real process with the Chinese, they are a world to themselves – sometimes they will say ‘Yes, yes, yes’ to a text of an agreement and then you’ll get an agreement back written differently” from what you thought was agreed upon. (Toren says this also occurs with India.) Negotiators “need patience” since negotiations with the Chinese do not move at the “pace we are used to,” Toren says.
All of this is especially hard for Israeli lawyers to get used to, since “our pace [for finishing deals] is moving at a crazy speed... Europeans also aren’t at our pace. Maybe [only] Americans are at our pace,” he explains.
Israeli lawyers’ urgency to conclude deals can put off the Chinese, who question “Why is there pressure to finish off a deal” – the pressure can make them “think something is wrong.”
Further, notes Toren, many Chinese “have a different mentality” than Israelis, and “until there is trust they won’t work with you.”
Still, Toren puts a very positive overall spin, saying that even if “sometimes there are more changes” to an agreement that Israelis thought was locked up, “in the end it works out” almost always.
Ziv Wassercug of the Tadmor-Yuval Levy law firm, which has a big China desk, spoke to the Post while in China to work on a deal. His firm represents many Israeli investors pouring funds into China as well as some Chinese investors in Israel (though this business is not necessarily related to the protocol).
Some projects between the countries that have occurred or are in the works include the 2013 Chinese Han’s Laser company’s purchase of Israeli laser metrology company Nextec and the 2015 China’s Shanghai International Project Group deal to run a planned new Haifa Port for 25 year starting in 2021.
Wassercug comments echoes some of the challenges Toren discusses, but with a bit of a different spin.
“Bureaucratic process needs to happen, and they take time, but sometimes the Chinese can be fast, even very fast, it all depends on the deal,” he explains, though he acknowledged that their processes are “usually slower than in Israel.”
Describing the ups and downs of negotiating, he says there are “periods of total blackout where you think you are moving, then there is a gap or timeout, you worry maybe the Chinese are getting cold toward the deal... but usually they’re still moving – sometimes they think Israelis are not exact enough” in drafting a deals’ terms.
“Ninety-five percent is just an issue of communication, a lack of understanding of interests and what they [the Chinese] are worried about,” Wassercug says.
Regarding the Chinese changing an agreements terms, he notes “this is an Israeli worldview of how the Chinese act. But the Chinese see an agreement as representing a current, ongoing situation, but if the situation changes, then the conditions of the agreement can change.”
Preparing Israeli investors for negotiations with the Chinese, “I explain to clients how it works in China, since [the Chinese] opening any issue can look to Israelis like a violation [of an agreement] even though they [the Chinese] don’t see it that way,” Wassercug says.
He adds that he tries to draft “agreements in ways to help make room for these issues,” but that even with his best efforts he spends “many late nights to put out fires” to keep deals together.
“Most of the stereotypes about the Chinese are not correct. They are very positive partners, good for business,” Wassercug says.
The lawyers had different views on whether China would surpass the US economically and neither was sure of how China’s current economic crisis will affect the picture, but both remained confident that the country will be a major part of Israel’s economic future.