As offshore natural gas begins to flow into Israel, Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver says it is an ideal time for the two countries to move forward with cooperative ventures in the energy field.Oliver made an official call for project proposals on Tuesday, under the Canada-Israel Energy Science and Technology Fund, which he and thenenergy and water minister Uzi Landau established in October.Run by Dr. Henri Rothschild, president of the Canada- Israel Industrial R&D Foundation, the fund is receiving $5 million over the course of three years from the Canadian ministry’s ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative project, as well as funding from the Israeli Energy and Water Ministry on a project-by-project basis, Oliver said.Each project will ideally be in a pre-commercialization stage and must involve both an Israeli and Canadian partner, the minister said.“I think as government initiatives go this has been moving at a pretty fast rate,” Oliver told The Jerusalem Post in an interview in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night.Israel and Canada’s decision to move forward with energy research and development collaborations is promising, but Oliver said he was “still troubled” by the fact that annual trade between the two countries was still only about $1.4 billion last year.In 2011, when the number was around $1.33b., he told the Post in a Jerusalem interview that he hoped to see the figure grow quickly.“These things don’t change overnight,” he said, noting that Israel had placed a lot of focus on commerce with China, India and the United States.“We have got to continue to tell our story and tell it better,” Oliver continued. “We have a real value added now because of the offshore gas and the expertise we have there. These things don’t change immediately.I think that Canada is very well regarded in Israel and I think its diplomatic stance is well appreciated, but that does not automatically translate into business.”Oliver, from the Conservative Party led by Stephen Harper, was elected to the House of Commons in 2011 and assumed his ministerial office on May 18 of that year, representing the Eglinton-Lawrence district of Toronto.Before entering politics, Oliver was an investment banker.He earned his MBA from Harvard University and both bachelor’s and law degrees from McGill University.In addition to holding meetings with a wide range of business and energy professionals during his trip, Oliver visited Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom and Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz on Wednesday and said that he would also see current Tourism Minister Landau – with whom he had worked extensively – as well as Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett.Natural resources, directly and indirectly, make up about 20 percent of the Canadian economy, and a majority of that fifth comes from oil and natural gas. Canada has a 173 billion-barrel oil reserve that consists predominantly of oil sands.Oliver said that Canadian knowledge, depth of experience and partnership would be invaluable to Israel’s offshore petroleum as well as its on-land oil shale explorations going forward.While no Canadian firms are partners in the large Tamar and Leviathan reservoir ventures, Toronto-based Adira Energy is drilling in other portions of Israel’s eastern Mediterranean, and three other Canadian firms are involved with Israeli oil and gas projects, Oliver said.Because most of the world’s largest oil and gas firms are steering clear of the region due to geopolitical concerns, there are more “opportunities for intermediate-sized companies to be involved” in the area’s drilling, he said.“We are still in early stages [of Israeli gas and oil development], so there are opportunities,” Oliver said. “Israel has a lot of thinking to do in terms of exports, in terms of royalties, in terms of the regulatory regime, in terms of developing engineering and technological capability, in terms of getting capital.”“But they’re pumping gas,” he added. “It’s kind of exciting times for the country.”As for how Israel should go forward in putting together all of these critical policies and strategies, Oliver said he could not offer specific advice for the country – particularly in terms of export allocations, a controversial subject among Israeli gas experts.“I can’t comment on Israeli national security,” he said.“The country is going to make an assessment of its needs in these areas. There are consequences always to these decisions and clearly capital can be raised when you export.”Every sovereign country needs to make its own decision in that regard, he continued, adding: “There are always different economic interests in play and that’s what the government has to reconcile.”This was, however, a very positive dilemma to have on a nation’s plate, Oliver said.Another quandary among the Israel’s gas stakeholders and activists is the lack of strict environmental regulations that exist for the offshore gas rigs, because they are located in Israel’s exclusive economic zone – where standard government laws do not apply.While to this dilemma, too, Oliver said he could not offer concrete advice, he explained that all Canadian energy projects undergo environmental assessments through independent bodies. To expedite the environmental evaluations, Oliver’s ministry last year launched a Responsible Resource Development policy as part of Harper’s overall 2012 Economic Action Plan, which eliminates duplication and places stricter time frames on review processes, he explained.The environmental regulatory system in Canada must be as efficient as possible, considering that the country has $650b. worth of energy projects occurring over the next decade, according to Oliver.“We won’t let any project go ahead unless it’s safe for the Canadian environment, but those that are safe we want to get moving,” he said.