Israeli FM optimistic on trade with India

Jerusalem: As India and Israel prepare to sign a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in the coming months, Israel`s Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has said that the landmark development will help treble the existing trade figures between the two countries.

"Bilateral trade between the two countries has been growing at a steady pace. When we established full diplomatic relations in 1992 it was a mere 180 million USDs and current trends indicate that it will be 6 billion USDs this year.

However, as we prepare to sign an FTA between the two countries the same would get a big boost and treble in the next 6-7 years", Steinitz told PTI in an interview ahead of his forthcoming trip next week.

The two countries have been working on the signing of a financial protocol following a meeting between Steinitz and his Indian counterpart, Pranab Mukherjee, in Washington last October.

The Israeli finance minister however is going to sign several other agreements to boost cooperation between the two countries.

"We have some of the most smartest people on both sides. We are working toward the establishment of a joint fund to promote R&D. During my trip i will also explore ways to bring more doctoral and post-doctoral students from India to Israel and vice versa", he said.

"I want to see more Indian investments in Israel, just as there are investments by Israeli companies in India. There is a special close chemistry between Indians and Israelis", Steinitz emphasised.

In a change of trend some Indian companies have been investing in Israel with Jain Irrigation acquiring majority stakes in NaanDan, Sun Pharma taking controlling stake in Taro Pharmaceuticals, TCS opening an office in Israel and the State Bank of India opening a branch in Ramat Gan`s diamond exchange.

Describing India as the top destination for Israelis in Asia, the Israeli finance minister said that the growing people to people contact during the last two decades has led to a strong cultural bonding between the two countries.

"Beyond trade and politics, there is today a very close affinity between Indians and Israelis. Israelis feel comfortable in India and so do the Indians in our country. I am very excited looking forward to my first visit. People in my family have visited India several times and so have my friends. I have heard a lot from them about the warmth of the Indian people", Steinitz said.

A close confidante of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Steinitz expressed satisfaction at the way the Indo-Israel ties have evolved during the last two decades as both the countries plan a series of events to commemorate 20 years of diplomatic relations.

"India and Israel share a very strong strategic bond. They are both vibrant democracies unfortunately threatened by the menace of terrorism and radical Islamic outfits. We have been cooperating with each other and demonstrated a strong resolve to counter it", the Israeli finance minister said.

"The events in Mumbai three years ago when a Jewish centre was also among the sites attacked by terrorists have further strengthened our resolve to fight terror together", he added.

Steinitz is likely to meet several prominent personalities inculding Mukherjee, Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Kapil Sibal, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and National Security Adviser, Shiv Shankar Menon, during his three day trip starting December 13.