The Hindu - 12 April 2023
Israel’s ministerial visits to India might include FTA talks
India-Israel free trade agreement (FTA) is expected to be on the agenda during the upcoming visit of Israeli Economy Minister Nir Barkat, sources in Tel Aviv have told The Hindu. The visit by Mr. Barkat is likely to be followed by the visit of Foreign Minister Eli Cohen to India. The back-to-back official interactions are being interpreted as the prelude to the arrival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in India.
“While this upcoming delegation will focus on promoting business relations between our countries, the Cohen delegation will focus on the bilateral relations on wider fronts. I call on the parties to resume discussion on the FTA,” said Anat Bernstein-Reich, president of the Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce, which will be a part of the delegation of Minister Barkat and plays an important role in advancing India-Israel business interest.
Mr. Barkat who served as the Mayor of Jerusalem during 2008-2018, was at the forefront of championing the Netanyahu government’s agenda, including during the recent controversial decision of the Israeli government to overhaul the judicial system of the country. It has been learnt that during the next week’s visit, fintech, cyber security, climate tech and the automotive sectors are likely to be taken up by the two sides.
The long-pending issue of FTA between India and Israel was revived last year when Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal announced that India was planning to restart dialogue in that direction. The announcement which came in the backdrop of the successful conclusion of an FTA between India and the UAE was perceived as a positive sign with Mr. Goyal saying, “After nearly a decade, we signed a comprehensive trade agreement with the UAE, a country with whom we already $60 billion of bilateral trade... We have FTAs with EU and Israel under discussion and we hope to launch with the GCC [India-Gulf Cooperation Council] in the near future.”
India and Israel established formal diplomatic relation in 1992 and in 2022, both countries joined a quadrilateral initiative including the U.S. and the UAE - I2U2 - that brought the resources and capacities of the four countries to deal with the post-COVID economic requirements and supply chain disruption. Ambassador of Israel Naor Gilon had announced in December 2022 that Prime Minister Netanyahu who was reelected last winter for another term would visit India this year.
Both sides started warming up the official channels subsequently and India hosted Israeli Knesset’s Speaker Amir Ohana who met Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla on March 31. The visits by Mr. Barkat and Mr. Cohen are expected to boost official-level dialogue ahead of a meeting between the top political leaders of both sides. PM Narendra Modi became the first Indian PM to visit Israel in July 2017 when Mr. Netanyahu welcomed him personally at the Ben Gurion airport. Prime Minister Netanyahu reciprocated in January 2018 by visiting Gujarat and Delhi. The two spoke over phone on January 11. “Congratulated him for his impressive election win and for becoming Prime Minister for a record sixth time. Delighted that we will have another chance to advance the India-Israel Strategic Partnership together,” PM Modi said following the telephonic conversation.