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In conversation with Adiv Baruch, Chairman of the Israel Export Institute during his visit to Gitex 2020, held in Dubai at the World Trade Centre in December

Could you elaborate a bit on the Israel Export Institute’s profile and activities?

The Israel Export Institute (IEI) is the first, public-private, not for profit organisation that was set up by the government of Israel 62 years ago, realising that the economic relationship would be more important in order to create sustainable relationships. Diplomacy is creating what we are calling the path, but it is the economy that is putting together the ties on the long term relationship or sustainable relationships. It’s not for profit and the private side is that every company, the manufacturing associations etc. are part of the board of directors and up to 50 per cent of the board of directors comprise Israeli government representatives including from the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Foreign Affairs etc. So we have real synchronicity between the government vision and private sectors to execute what is best for the economy.

The reason we are a not for profit organisation is so that we remain objective in our efforts through mapping of the micro and macro visuals. So if you wish to understand each company through their levels of readiness on how they wish to go about their business, this is expertise we could offer if called upon to do so. We also have an arm that offers global education, as in we educate the business community on how to react and act upon the global environment.

How do you read business and trade ties blossoming between Israel and the UAE in the coming months and years?

The world is currently passing through the hysterical and historical moments in time. The hysterical part is that Covid caught the world unprepared, with just about every government reacting hysterically as a result of which we can see how the whole world has been impacted. It’s kind of proven that we live in a flat world. In terms of the historical part, we now have the Abraham Accord. In relation to this, what must be noted is that Israel is way too small to absorb all the innovation and technology that we bring forth.

Israel’s exports stood at over $114 billion in 2019, a figure that must have reduced drastically in 2020 because of the global lockdown in air traffic globally due to the pandemic. This meant Israel needed to find new markets to overcome the shortage in global trading. The Abraham Accord now allows Israel to look at new markets such as the UAE and hopefully other Middle East countries to showcase and export its innovations and technology. What the peace accord has also allowed is to tear down walls between countries and allow the rulers of nations and their people to just sit down and chat on a personal level, as well ideate and co-create opportunity so that the governmenst and the people of both nations unite to fight global challenges. Both nations can bring their benefits to the table and find solutions in this regard. Let’s co-create with the UAE, this is my vision as well.

Going into specifics, the UAE and Israel have defined 12 major sectors that are of interest and benefit to the UAE, and working on which will allow Israel strengthen its standing as a global innovation hub. We feel if we take the proper steps and build trust, both nations can achieve bilateral trade of $500 million in 2021. Our target is to reach $5 billion in bilateral trade within the next five years, which is doable and that can even be expedited. However, what’s more interesting is how this partnership can help us extend the business, trading and collaboration across the region.

Could you elaborate on some of the 12 sectors you mentioned the UAE is keenly interested in and Israel’s plans in this regard?

First and foremost, one of the chief sectors the UAE is majorly interested in is food security. Now, food security has its own ecosystem, be it in terms of aggrotech or food tech, to be able to meet global challenges. This is a sector that Israel prides itself in, in terms of the innovations we have fronted and would be happy to share with the UAE and region. Another sector that is crucial to the UAE and the region is cyberspace.

As we all know, we currently live in a world where physical wars are slowly disappearing, and cyber challenges are part of an ongoing war that we are currently fighting. There is a lot that Israel can provide to the UAE in this space. Another critical space is healthcare, with Israel having fronted several innovations in digital healthcare in recent years, discoveries and inventions that can immensely benefit the UAE in its ambitions to becoming a regional healthcare tourism hub.

Another sector is financial technology. With the UAE rapidly becoming a hub for financial and business technology, fintech is something that we can collaborate on in a big way. The infrastructure for fintech here in the UAE is very advanced, besides the ease of doing business index in the UAE is among the highest in the world, so I believe the country and the region can be an early adapter for nascent technologies and be a showcase to the world. In essence both the UAE and Israel can be the alpha and beta testing centres for this technology, allowing the rest of the world to later adapt the same tech at a later stage, so this is an interesting ecosystem that can be developed.

How has the pandemic affected business in Israel, are there any special incentives/packages that the IEI has in place to bolster SMEs as well as big business?

As we look towards the East, we have a nation like China that had a three-month head start over the rest of the world to study and understand what the pandemic was all about. However, as early as in February 2020, before the world went into lockdown, I defined a strategy on global business continuity as I felt a lot of the businessmen were making their decisions on Covid based on just their intuition, without any real world knowledge of what a pandemic scenario could entail. So we created a database on anything and everything that we could find on Covid that would aid businesses to continue working. We tried to supply the business decision makers with the proper tools.

The second thing we did was the transformation of the digital space. Covid expedited the requirement for businesses to transform their businesses digitally. This move towards digital transformation meant we had to create new processes to help businesses to maintain old relationships and create new ones, all in real time. Conferences were shut down and the lockdown meant that transportation came to a virtual standstill. So, our mission in this instance was to have as much information as possible to allow businesses to enjoy data fusion and take better decisions remotely.

SMEs play a pivotal part in the UAE growth narrative. Are there any special packages or incentives that the IEI has planned for small businesses in the UAE who hope to make forays into Israel?

Yes, we do have several packages as you have rightly mentioned, but firstly what needs to be known is that these packages are created through the Ministry of Economy, and we have the Foreign Trade Administration, which is on the government infrastructure level. As you may know, Israel has become a hub for global multinational companies, with activity centred around over 400 multinational centres. We also have a lot of SME activitiy.

However, one of the perennial challenges that Israel faces is human capital, we are always short of talent as our entrepreneurs are constantly being absorbed by various nations. In terms of R&D in the SME sector, we can collaborate with the UAE to create innovation hubs that can attract SMEs and create more job opportunities.