FTA can treble bilateral trade by 2015: Israel envoy

Mumbai: Israeli ambassador Alon Ushpiz has expressed hope that the negations between New Delhi and Tel Aviv on free trade pact (FTA) would conclude before the end of the year, and it will boost the bilateral trade at least threefold by 2015.

Terming the timely conclusion of FTA as "very crucial for both the nations" Ushpiz said post-FTA the composition of trade will radically change to high-tech, IT, and agriculture and water management technologies, from the present diamonds (50 percent), chemicals, and machines.

"I am sure the FTA talks will be concluded successfully before the end of the year. We already have completed three rounds of talks and the fourth round will be held in a couple of weeks in Jerusalem. My sense is that FTA will transform radically the very nature of our relations…I am sure that the FTA can help the trade volume to jump to at least USD 10-15 billion from over USD 5 billion in 2011," Ushpiz told PTI in a telephonic interaction over the weekend.

On January 29, New Delhi and Tel Aviv marked 20 years of diplomatic ties. Israel has become a valued partner for New Delhi in areas as varied as defence and agriculture.

Terming the two decades of cooperation as "astounding and strategically very important for both," Ushpiz said much more can be done in increasing people-to-people movement.

"We are looking at three things from the FTA. First, a radical change in the composition of trade from diamonds, chemicals, machines now to high tech and IT, apart from the present cooperation in water management technologies.

"Secondly, we have to increase the tourist flow or people to people interaction. Thirdly, the FTA will help nurture more R&D between the two nations, both on the government front as well as the private sector," the ambassador said.

FTA will also bring about more air connectivity between the two countries, said Ushpiz.

Currently there are only three-four flights a week by the Israeli carrier El AL between Tel Aviv and Mumbai; no Indian carrier flies to Israel.

Ushpiz noted that despite this, as many as 40,000 Israelis and an equal number of Indians travelled between the two countries last year. "But this is too low a number and it should go up much higher….the FTA will have a very radical impact on air travel," he said.

On whether the FTA will help cement defence ties, he said the trade pact will cover purely civilian trade. He also parried a query whether Israeli companies are looking at tie-ups with Indian companies in defence production, saying "we don`t discuss defence issues publicly."

Though the two countries have best cooperation in the water management and farm technologies, he said there is much more scope.

Israel recycles as much 75 percent of its waste water. Stating that Israeli agriculture is based on knowledge and high-tech, he said his country can share a lot more with India to secure its food needs.

To question whether the growing relationship between New Delhi and Tehran will be a deterrent, he said "Obviously, Iran is a concern not only for us but for the international community. We believe that everything should be done to prevent Iran from going ahead with its nuclear programme."

When asked what would be overriding concern — politics or economic cooperation — for Tel Aviv when it comes to its ties with New Delhi, he said, "It is a combination of both. We strongly believe in further strengthening of Indo-Israeli ties."