Israel, China agree to open free trade talks

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and China’s Vice Premier Liu Yandong announced yesterday in Jerusalem that the two countries have agreed to begin talks on a free trade agreement, which experts say could double bilateral trade.

Yandong is currently on a two-day visit to Israel, launching this year’s session of the Israel-China Committee for Cooperation in Innovation, an inter-governmental forum launched in 2014. During a meeting at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Netanyahu said “I was delighted to hear today from Vice Premier Liu that China is prepared to begin free trade agreement negotiations with Israel. This is a momentous development and we are ready to do so right away.” Netanyahu visited China for five days in 2013, underscoring the importance of economic and trade links with China.

Yandong emphasised “We must continue this partnership for the good of both peoples. Israel and China are looking ahead to big, joint projects.” She explained that Beijing hopes to develop transportation infrastructure, telecommunications and other areas and “Our hope is that more Israeli entrepreneurs will undertake projects in China.”

The free trade talks are expected to include the removal of trade barriers and issues of standardization, regulation and boosting cooperation particularly in economic and technological development. Israeli business daily Globes reports that a free trade agreement could double the trading volume between Israel and China, which currently stands at £5.5 billion.

During her visit, Yandong has already signed seven agreements to boost academic cooperation between Israeli and Chinese universities, reported to be worth £47 million. She is expected to sign further accords during her visit, including on healthcare, cultural and scientific cooperation.

Yandong also met yesterday with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, who said that “China is playing a great role” in the region. And although “we may from time to time not agree on everything,” said Rivlin, “we are pleased to strengthen the relationship and the understanding between us.” Yandong said that there is “great importance” to Israel-China relations.

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