Bennett in Indonesia: Trade missions closed in western Europe to open new ones in Asia

Economy and trade minister says Israel diverting funds to open trade missions in China, India, Hong Kong.

Bennett in Indonesia 370 (photo credit: Courtesy- Economy and Trade Ministry)
Bennett in Indonesia 370
(photo credit: Courtesy- Economy and Trade Ministry)
Israel is redirecting funds from trade missions in western Europe in favor of opening new vistas in the east, Economics Minister Naftali Bennett told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday from Indonesia, where he is participating in a World Trade Organization conference.
Bennett said Israel has closed Israeli trade representations in Finland and Sweden in order to have the funds to open new missions in the east. “At the end of the day I am diverting funds from western Europe to open trade missions in China, India and Hong Kong,” he said.
Finland and Sweden are currently among the countries most critical of Israeli policies inside the EU.
“One of the lessons from Horizon 2020,” Bennett said, “was that we need to diversify, to have a much broader set of arrangements, and not only through the EU Commission.
We don’t want to be dependent on any organization or country.”
Horizon 2020 is the EU’s flagship R&D program that Israel will join only after a bruising battle over the implementation of the EU’s strict guidelines governing the ban of EU grants, prizes or financial instruments to any Israeli entities over the Green Line, including east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Bennett was the first Israeli minister in 13 years to visit Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country. Shimon Peres visited there briefly in 2000 as minister of regional cooperation.
Addressing the conference in Bali, Bennett said that “economic ties can create bridges for peace,” and that as Israel’s minister of economy, “I anxiously await the day I can sit down and sign free trade agreements with all of Israel’s neighbors as well as other Arab and Muslim states in the wider region.”
A number of Arab and Muslim delegates were in the plenum when Bennett spoke, and no one demonstratively walked out.
Bennett told the Post that in his view “diplomacy can follow economy,” and that greater Israeli economic activity around the world would serve to “de-emphasize” the importance many countries place on the Palestinian issue.
Bennett said the “Oslo, Tzipi Livni, peace talks” track “does not go anywhere.”
“Our biggest mistake is not that we don’t make our case,” he said, “but that we are overly focused on it, instead of on our strong points,” such as innovation and technology.
“I call this the lighthouse in the storm,” he said.
“Our region is going to be screwed up for the next 100 years. Our diplomacy needs to be based on economy.”
Bennett, who held talks in Bali with counterparts from Canada, Mexico, Vietnam, Russia and India, said “everyone is coming over to me here, saying we need your innovation, how do you inject that innovation into your economy? My point of view is that this is our core competency.”
What he liked about the World Trade Organization, Bennett said, was that “it is about economy and prosperity, the standard good old politics are not part of it.”
Bennett took part in the formal inauguration of the new trade mission in Hong Kong this week.