Visiting business delegations on the rise [pg. 17]

Amid talk of a surge in international interest to invest in Israel, the Israel Export Institute said Monday that 2005 saw a 15 percent increase in foreign delegations arriving in Israel as guests of the Institute. A total of 107 delegations came to Israel and participated in approximately 2,000 meetings with local businessmen and exporters during the year, David Arzi, President of the IEI reported. In 2004, 93 business groups arrived in the country. The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor also confirmed a significant increase in the number of trade delegations that came to Israel during the year, attributing the rise to the improved geopolitical situation and economic growth experienced in Israel through the year. "People abroad are showing far greater interest to do business in Israel," said the Foreign Trade Administration's Rafi Brender. "Based on Bank of Israel and Finance Ministry growth forecasts for this year we expect the trend to continue, but much depends on the geopolitical situation." In the wake of the Hamas victory in the Palestinian Authority elections, there have been no signs of foreign delegations being discouraged from coming, he added. This week, a 50-member medical delegation is scheduled to arrive from Czechoslovakia this week, while the government also will host this week the heads of some of the leading US financial institutions. Doron Abrahami, Deputy Director at the Foreign Trade Administration said delegations generally have three goals from their visits. Firstly, he explained, there are official groups seeking to negotiate better trade agreements with Israel. "In this regard a group from Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Uruguay recently arrived to negotiate a free trade agreement," he said. The second type includes a mixture of private sector and government representatives looking for new trade opportunities here. Last year, saw a record number of these delegations arriving in Israel, Abrahami said. Finally, 2005 also saw a rise in multi-national companies exploring investment opportunities in Israel. "They come because it's a very effective way of doing business," Abrahami said. According to Export Institute figures, 43 groups arrived in Israel from Europe last year, which despite being the largest source of interest, showed a 12% decrease from the 49 delegations that arrived in 2004. US groups rose from 15 to 20 last year, while the number of delegations from the Far East increased from 17 to 22 on a year-over-year basis. Thirteen South American groups came in 2005 and six arrived from Africa. Meanwhile, the IEI forecast a 37% increase in Israeli delegations traveling overseas under its auspices. Last year, 140 groups with delegates from approximately 1,250 companies traveled with the Institute seeking partnerships abroad.