Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan, October 24, 2018.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Israel wants to finalize a free trade agreement with Beijing within the next year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan when the two met on Wednesday in Jerusalem.
“China is Israel’s second largest trade partner reaching $10 billion in 2017 and it is already up 30% in 2018. I know for China this isn’t the biggest trading partner. But for us it is very important,” Netanyahu said.
He first proposed the idea in 2013 and the two governments began talks on the matter in 2016. The discussions are now in an advanced stage. Netanyahu spoke in the Foreign Ministry at the start of the fourth meeting of the China-Israel Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation, designed to advanced Israeli-Chinese business ties.
“I believe that we can get more from trade and from free-trade because free-trade between us would accelerate joint ventures, would accelerate the recognition of mutual expertise by Israeli companies and their Chinese market partners,” Netanyahu said.
It’s important to make it easy for Israeli companies to be in China and for Chinese companies to be in Israel, Netanyahu said.
The two countries have talked about visas and increasing direct flights, of which there are already 50 a week, Netanyahu said.
Tourism is also important, although given China’s size perhaps it would be best if no more than 1% of the population came to Israel, “I am not sure the country is big enough,” Netanyahu joked. “I believe our cooperation has no limits. It extends to the fields of science, entrepreneurship, cultural exchanges, research and more,” he said.
“China is the second largest economy in the world
, growing rapidly. Israel is among the leading innovation nations in the world. It’s a global technological power. The sustained growth of both our countries and both our economies requires two things, which the vice president spoke about just an hour ago. It requires innovation and it requires scale,” Netanyahu said.
“The combination of Israeli technology and innovation with Chinese industry, expertise, innovation and markets is very powerful,” he added.
Wang is the highest level Chinese diplomat to visit Israel in 18 years. He has focused on improving bilateral ties and has skipped over the diplomatic tensions between the two countries over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran.
“When we look at our histories, 5,000 years for China, 4,000 years for the Jewish people, we are very proud of our past, very conscious of our traditions and very connected to our homeland but equally eager to develop new approaches,” Netanyahu said.
“We have two ancient civilizations that seize the future,” he said.
Minister and deputy ministers took part in the meeting. Eight joint agreements were signed in the fields of science and technology, the life sciences, innovation, digital health and agriculture. The Innovation Conference of 2018-2021 action plan was also signed. The committee has met in Jerusalem and Beijing.
Wang said that “cooperation” between the two countries needs to be taken to a new level. China is at a crucial stage of transition from quantitative to quality growth, Wang said adding that tighter economic ties with Israel is part of the desire for quality growth.
At night both men attended the Prime Minister’s Conference on Innovation, at the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem. On Thursday, Wang and his delegation will help dedicate the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Tel Aviv.
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