Israeli exports of services are forecast to rise 10 percent to $19.6 billion in 2006, the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce said Sunday as the industry continues to spur general growth in both exports and the economy. "The services industry is becoming a hot topic of the world economy," said Uriel Lynn, president of the FICC. "Exports of services such as in the banking, insurance, shipping and software markets has been the core reason that Israel has achieved a positive trade balance for the first time in 2006." The FICC forecast that the fourth quarter would boost the numbers after the first nine months of the year showed 11.5% growth over the parallel period last year to $14.5b. in services sales. The services industry includes companies in the tourism, transport, engineering, software, medical, consulting and research and development fields. The federation added that the services industry made up 31% of total Israeli exports and 14% of GDP in 2006, compared to 30% and 13%, respectively, last year. The increase continues the positive trend seen over the last four years in Israel where services exports have grown 41.5% from $11b. to $17.8b. between 2002 and 2005, the FICC reported. It also was in line with global trends where worldwide exports grew 51.4% from $1.6 trillion in 2002 to $2.4 trillion last year. Picking up on that trend, the Israel Exports Institute said last week it was working to expand the services it provides for exporters of professional services. The IEI said it was drafting a strategic plan to boost exports from the industry in partnership with the Recanati School of Business Management at the Tel Aviv University . "The goal of the plan is to assess the potential of exporting different services to the US, which is the biggest market for Israeli companies in this field," said Yehiel Assia, president of the IEI. Separately, the IEI said Sunday it signed a cooperation agreement with the Russian Association of Cellular Communications Operators to advance communications exports to Russia. Assia estimated that the agreement would boost communications exports to Russia by $50 million in three years to reach around $210m. in 2009. Telecom exports are forecast to end this year at $160m.