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French Trade Minister Pierre Lellouche.(Photo by: Courtesy/French Trade Ministry )
'We need to beef up imports and exports with Israel'
French Trade Minister Pierre Lellouche says France’s trade links with Israel are behind where they should be.
France’s trade links with Israel are behind where they should be despite the strengthening of diplomatic relations since Nicolas Sarkozy became president in 2007, French Trade Minister Pierre Lellouche said Wednesday in Tel Aviv.

Lellouche, who met with reporters during a two-day visit here, said many French companies still refrain from doing business with Israel out of fear of losing Arab clients. But he said the French business community needed to realize that Israel is now a significant economic player that enjoys strong growth and holds large potential for French firms and investors.

Bilateral trade increased 11 percent last year to 2.29 billion euros, Lellouche said, “but this is still not enough for us.”

France delivered 1.29 billion euros worth of goods to Israel in 2011, making it the country’s second-largest Middle Eastern export destination behind Egypt, he said. However, this comparison excludes North African countries such as Tunisia, which still enjoys a far higher volume of trade with France than Israel does.

Lellouche, who spoke immediately after meeting with members of the Israeli-French Chambers of Commerce, said there were about 150 dual nationals in Israel who could play a role in developing economic relations between the two countries. He said he would reiterate to French businessmen back at home what Sarkozy has been saying on the diplomatic front: that they can be friends of Israel and of the Arab countries simultaneously.

Lellouche also addressed the topic of European Union sanctions against Iran, rejecting an accusation from a reporter for a French-language publication who said they had not gone far enough. Calling the decision to impose an oil-import embargo and to freeze assets of Iran’s central bank “unprecedented,” Lellouche said it proved Europe’s and France’s leadership on this issue.

Lellouche, who is Jewish, recalled warmly his first visit to Israel 40 years ago as a kibbutz volunteer, but said the experience taught him that socialism was wrong.

On the domestic front, he is known for having authored the “Lellouche Law,” legislation adopted in 2003 that stiffened penalties for anti- Semitic and racist offences.
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